Bancroft opens stunning California Captured on Canvas exhibit

A new exhibit at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library features 43 spectacular pieces selected from the library’s collection of 300-plus oil paintings highlighting the state’s unique history and culture. The paintings in the exhibit depict the art, commerce, geography and characters that have drawn people to California since its early days.

“California Captured on Canvas” was curated by Jack von Euw, who heads the Bancroft’s pictorial collection, which is second only to that of the Library of Congress and contains more than 8 million photos, drawings and paintings. He assembled the exhibit to visually tell the Golden State’s story, from colonial exploration to the Gold Rush and more.

Exhibit curator Jack von Euw offers highlights of “California Captured on Canvas.” (Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Phil Ebiner of UC Berkeley Public Affairs.)

The show includes a colorful and striking portrait of Helen Wills, a UC Berkeley alumna who won eight Wimbledon titles and was the founding benefactor of the campus’s thriving Helen Wills Neuroscience Center. There’s a mesmerizing collection of paintings of Yosemite Valley in the early days of its exploration that reflect the valley’s continuing ability to inspire and awe. Another series of paintings shows San Francisco’s Chinatown before the city’s devastating 1906 earthquake.

“Living as we do in a world where so much of our existential experience is increasingly dependent on and mediated by a basic binary code of ones and zeros, “California Captured on Canvas” celebrates the pre-digital world made tactile through the artistry of paint on canvas,” von Euw writes in a piece for the library’s forthcoming Bancroftiana publication.

The exhibit will remain open through March 6, 2015. The Bancroft Library Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A number of the exhibit paintings have “not seen the light of day” since they were donated to the Bancroft decades ago, along with boxes of individuals’ or families’ personal papers, diaries and the like, says von Euw.

Those selected for the exhibit had to meet two criteria: they had to convey stories of California’s people, places and events and do so in oil paint.

Oil paintings can stand up to the high-beam lights of the Bancroft Gallery, which was renovated and expanded slightly after seismic renovation of the entire library a few years back. This shows off to maximum capacity the works’ artistic beauty and detail. Exhibit items such as lithographs, posters and other items are on paper rather than canvas, so the lights are dimmed to preserve these more fragile pieces.

Bancroft Director Elaine Tennant, who helped choose the exhibit paintings, approved using funds from the library’s Sophie McFarland Endowment to bring in top-notch art-restoration experts to bring back to life paintings that had physically suffered before and/or during their time tucked away in the stacks.


  • Review the Bancroft’s 2004 “Drawn West” exhibit of watercolors, paintings and lithographs — part of the Bancroft’s Robert B. Honeyman Collection of Early California and Western art.
  • To learn more about the Bancroft’s pictorial collection, click here.