Mark and Janet Hilbert, founders of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University, recently donated 145 new art pieces to the museum’s collection, worth approximately $1.1 million. The gift includes building up a group of women artists, with 14 women artists represented, and adds a total of 56 new artists to the museum collection. Most pieces fall within the category of California Scene painting—a genre of watercolors and oils depicting everyday life in the Golden State.
Since opening in 2016, the Hilbert Museum has established itself as one of the leading art museums in Southern California, attracting more than 30,000 visitors annually. It has been named one of the best museums in Orange County by OC Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. The museum features thousands of California Scene paintings donated by the Hilbert’s and includes animation, movie art and American illustration collections.
“I found our first California Scene painting at a consignment shop in Palm Springs that had a complete assortment of California watercolors about 25 years ago,” Mark explained. “It was love at first sight. After buying that first one, we developed an appreciation for the style.”
The heart of the new 145-piece collection is the California Scene style: paintings about everyday life, such as on the ranches, cities, beaches and mountains, going about daily activities, working and having fun. The genre started in the 1930s and flourished during the Depression.
“This type of regionalist art in California had a sunny outlook even during the Dustbowl years,” said Hilbert Museum director Mary Platt. “People came to California for a better life and new work. The Golden State had a mysticism about it that drew people here for new lives. The paintings reflect that, as they have an optimism about them.”
She explained that the style continues today: “Many acclaimed California artists are still depicting daily life around them—and Mark continues to collect contemporary works as well.”
The new artwork includes pieces by big-name artists such as Ben Abril, Don Bachardy, Ernie Barnes Jr, Henrietta Berk, Jessie Arms Botke, Richard Bunkall, Susan Hertel, Hardie Gramatky, and more.
The Hilbert Museum is currently undergoing renovations that will nearly triple the size of the original museum. The expansion will open in early 2024, allowing the Hilbert Museum to add galleries for Indigenous American art and American design, additional gallery space for visiting exhibitions, and the museum’s acclaimed permanent collection of California fine art, animation, movie art and American illustration. The new design will also feature a café; a community room for lectures, classes and events; an outdoor event space; a research library and more.
The new art pieces will be rotated into the permanent collection galleries among all the other paintings in the collection.
“We are very much looking forward to the grand opening of the expanded Hilbert Museum of California Art early in 2024,” Mark concluded.
Plans and dates for the Hilbert Museum Expansion Grand Opening will be announced soon.