1850 - 1990

Artists for Hire: Painting for the Market in Santa Clara Valley

History San José

History San José’s collection includes close to 500 paintings by artists local to California’s Santa Clara Valley, and especially San José. Painters such as A. D. M. Cooper, Andrew Putnam Hill, and Elizabeth A. Rockwell supplemented their income from sales of their work by accepting commissions from wealthy landowners, businessmen, and corporate entities throughout the area. These works included not only portraits of individuals, but also valued property such as prize animals. In the case of Francis Harvey Cutting, his patrons were San Francisco’s Gumps Department Store, and the State of California, who hired him to paint California’s missions for the World’s Fair. Clarkson Dye and Frank Von Sloun painted the large murals in the rotunda of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts in 1936. This exhibit reflects the range of “hired art” in Santa Clara Valley as well as a selection of the artists' work held by History San José.

Eva Kottinger Burnett (1859-1916)

Born: 1859, San José, California

Died: 1916, San José, California

Eva Kottinger Burnett's father, John W. Kottinger, was married to Maria Bernal. Bernal's father Augustin was awarded a very large land grant in Alameda County, and the Kottingers settled on Rancho el Valle de San José, Maria's portion of the grant. Eva grew up on the rancho, later attending the College of Notre Dame in San José. From 1893 to 1903 she is listed in the San José City Directories as an artist, and from 1902 to 1903 as a teacher of drawing.

These women are thought to be part of the Cory family. This relaxed portrait illustrates the clothing and jewelry of the period in great detail.

Untitled, 1900, by Eva Kottinger Burnett (1859-1916)

Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)

Born: December 23, 1856, St. Louis, Missouri

Died: September 10, 1924, San José, California

Edan Hughes, author of Artists in California: 1786-1940, said that Astley David Middleton Cooper was the most "colorful character he encountered of the 16,000 artists he researched for his book. Cooper moved to East San José in 1883, after already establishing himself as a professional artist in San Francisco. He was notorious for throwing huge parties and paying his bar bills with paintings of nudes. In 1909, he stunned the San José community by building an Egyptian-style studio at San Antonio and South 21st Streets. Cooper was a prolific painter, completing over a thousand works in his lifetime. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was able to command astonishingly high prices for his work. In the 1890s, he sold The Story of Evil Spirits for $20,000 and Trilby for $62,000.

A.D.M. Cooper in his studio
Exterior of A.D.M. Cooper's San José studio

The bandido Tiburcio Vasquez (April 10, 1835 – March 19, 1875) was captured in Southern California on May 14, 1874, but transferred to San José for his trial. Cooper may have painted this image from the photographs which Vasquez sold for $1 each to raise legal funds. A San José jury found Vasquez guilty on January 9, 1875. He was hanged on March 19th of the same year.

Tiburcio Vasquez, 1918, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)

Paintings of Native Americans captivated Cooper. His grandfather, Major Benjamin O'Fallon, fought in the American Indian Wars, and his great great uncle, William Clark, partnered in the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. However, his greatest influence was George Catlin, a nationally famous painter of Native Americans and a close family friend. Both Catlin and Cooper were trying in their paintings to preserve a way of life under threat from rapid Westward expansion. The Native Americans pictured in these paintings are likely Sioux.

A.D.M. Cooper at his easel, ca. 1900
Buffalo Crossing, 1914, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)
Lone Sioux Camp - Dakotas, ca. 1900, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)
Untitled, ca. 1915, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)
Untitled, 1922, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)
Untitled, 1913, by Astley David Middleton Cooper (1856-1924)

Francis Harvey Cutting (1892-1964)

Born: October 8, 1972, Riceville, Iowa

Died: June 8, 1964, Campbell, California

Cutting settled in Campbell after moving to northern California in 1893. He graduated from San José Normal School in 1898. Dissatisfied after several years of teaching, he quit and began working in the family apricot orchard at Hamilton and Leigh Avenues. Since Cutting's true desire was to paint, he moved to Pacific Grove to start a career as an artist, after coming into an inheritance. Initially, he had a hard time making a living. His paintings sold for a mere $5 each, and during the Depression he was forced to trade paintings for food. Success came later when Gumps Department Store in San Francisco began paying him $40 to $50 dollars for each work, and he was awarded several commissions. The State of California hired him to paint California's missions for the World's Fair. Cutting's studio was located in his home at 125 Harrison Avenue in Campbell. A widower, Cutting made the San José Mercury News when he remarried at age 90. His bride, Laura Reynolds, was 75.

Cutting created several garden scenes and images of the California coast, but was primarily known for landscapes like this one. Mt. Sombroso is the highest mountain to the southeast of Los Gatos. Sombroso in Spanish means shadow; Los Gatos is in the shadow of this mountain. He never liked his name Francis, which is why he signed his name F. H. Cutting.

Mt. Sombroso, Los Gatos, 1945, by Francis Harvey Cutting (1892-1964)

Clarkson Dye (1869-1955)

Born: June 30, 1869, San Francisco, California

Died: 1955, Los Gatos, California

As a teenager, Dye studied with Virgil Williams, Director of the San Francisco Art Association's School of Design. He spent much of his life in San Francisco, with a brief period in Arizona during the 1920s. In 1941, he moved to Los Gatos where he resided until his death in 1955. Dye assisted Frank Van Sloun in painting the large murals in the rotunda of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts in 1936.

The subject matter for Dye's paintings came, in part, from his extensive travels throughout the Bay Area and Southwest United States, Europe and Asia. He also painted many nocturnal street scenes in San Francisco.

Path in Los Gatos, 1941, by Clarkson Dye (1869-1955)

Charles Henry Harmon (1859-1936)

Born: December 23,1859, Mansfield, Ohio

Died: October 14, 1936, San José, California

Harmon moved to Denver, Colorado from Sunnyvale, California, in 1905. He spent the next seven years painting scenes of the Rocky Mountains before returning to San José. While in Colorado, the Santa Fe, Western Pacific and Colorado Midlands Railroads commissioned him to paint scenes along their routes. His paintings were sold exclusively through Gumps Department Store in San Francisco.

Rabbit Ears Pass, Colorado, ca. 1907, by Charles Henry Harmon (1859-1936)
A. P. Hill, 1900
Interior of A. P. Hill's studio, ca. 1890

Andrew Putnam Hill (1853-1922)

Born: August 9, 1853, Porter County, Indiana

Died: September 4, 1922, Pacific Grove, California

Andrew Putnam Hill came to California via the Isthmus of Panama, settling in San José. He attended Santa Clara College and later the San Francisco School of Design, where he studied with Virgilio Tojetti and Louis O. Lussier. He and Lussier owned a portrait painting business in Oakland (1876-1877) and in San José (1878-1880). Hill was also an accomplished photographer, and in 1892 partnered with Sidney Yard to create the “Hill and Yard” photography studio. The studio pictured above was likely located at 79-81 West Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

Like many artists, Hill was commissioned to paint prized animals. In addition to painting Bull's Head, he was commissioned to paint the Stanford's family dog Tootsie in 1889. (This painting hangs in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University). In addition to these portraits, Hill's landscapes provide a visual record of the Santa Clara Valley. 

Hill won a gold medal at the California State Fair (1877), and medals at the St. Louis World's Fair (1904) and Lewis and Clark Exposition (1905). However, Hill is best remembered for founding the Sempervirens Club in 1900, which was responsible for creating Big Basin Redwoods California State Park in 1901. A monument to Hill was placed in the park in 1923 with the inscription, “He saved the Redwoods.”

Bull's Head, ca. 1880, by Andrew Putnam Hill (1853-1922)
Untitled, 1887, by Andrew Putnam Hill (1853-1922)
Untitled, 1888, by Andrew Putnam Hill (1853-1922)

This pastoral scene is located east of San Martin in south Santa Clara Valley. The line of trees in the background follows Coyote Creek. Painted just five years before the Hills's death, it is one of two similar oils of this scene.

Untitled, 1919, by Andrew Putnam Hill (1853-1922)

Ransom Gillet Holdredge (1836-1889)

Born: 1836, New York, New York

Died: 1899, Alameda, California

Holdredge arrived in California in the late 1850s. He kept a studio in San Francisco and exhibited locally while earning a living as a draughtsman at Mare Island Naval Yard. He and Hiram Bloomer, another native New Yorker, held a joint sale of their work in 1874 which financed a trip to France. After two years studying abroad, Holdredge returned to San Francisco. A commercially successful artist, his paintings were in demand and highly regarded. Despite his success, he died from malnutrition and alcoholism in Alameda County Infirmary.

This landscape is perhaps one of the finest examples of his Hudson River School style. Like A. D. M. Cooper, Holdredge also lived with Native Americans for a period, and became enthralled with painting them. Unlike Cooper, Holdredge's approach is less romanticized and more realistic.

Untitled, ca. 1860, by Ransom Gillet Holdredge (1836-1889)

Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832-1884)

Born: October 21 or 22, 1832, Canada

Died: December 27, 1884, Oakland, California

Born in Canada, Lussier had become a U.S. citizen by 1870. He moved to Oakland in 1894 after living much of his life in Illinois. Considered by many to be one of California's finest portrait artists, Lussier's students included both Andrew Putnam Hill and Charles Henry Harmon. Hill and Lussier were so impressed with each other's abilities that they went into business together, sharing a studio in Oakland from 1875 to 1877, and a portrait studio in San José from 1877 to 1881. Note that the portrait of Judge Archer is signed Lussier and Hill.

Lawrence Archer was elected Mayor of San José on April 16, 1856, but had resigned by July 21 of the same year. He then served as a County Judge from 1867 to 1871, and as a California State Assemblyman in 1875 and 1876. Archer once again became Mayor of San José in 1878, after taking over for interim Mayor George B. McKee. This portrait was painted that year.

Judge Lawrence Archer, 1878, by Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832-1884)
Portrait, 1883, by Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832-1884)
Dante Carmello Rossell, 1877, by Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832-1884). Rosselle was an Italian writer and poet.

Portraits of the Bishop Family

In 1849, Samuel Bishop came to California looking for gold. He married Frances E. Young in 1854, who bore a son and daughter. Bishop owned the land occupied by the U.S. Army at Fort Tejon, which later became the town of Bishop. In 1867, the family moved to San José and Samuel obtained a franchise to build the San José and Santa Clara Horse Railroad. He became president of San José’s first public transportation system.

Although the Bishop family portraits are unsigned and have no associated artist records, we believe that Lussier may have painted them due to their strong resemblance to work that he completed in Illinois.

Sarah Virginia Bishop, ca. 1875, attributed to Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832 –1884)
Samuel Addison Bishop, ca. 1875, attributed to Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832 –1884)
Frances Bishop, ca. 1875, attributed to Louis Olezerne Lussier (1832 –1884)

Marques Edwin Reitzel (1896-1963)

Born: March 13, 1896, Fulton, Indiana

Died: 1963, San José, California

Reitzel studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and earned his PhD at Ohio State University. In 1938, he moved to California to establish the art department at San José State College. He started a summer art program in 1946 near the Cable Lake area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

After retiring from San José State College in 1956, Reitzel founded the Art Ranch near Pescadero, California, attracting students from across the United States and Europe. Reitzel invited visiting artists to teach at the Art Ranch, including Frank Harmon Myers, who was well known for his ocean scenes, and Sir Leonard Richmond, a prominent artist from England.

Reitzel's son, Marques R. Reitzel, described how his father would create “exhibition” paintings, typically 5' x 7'. “He first sketched his composition in charcoal, and then created a separate watercolor to decide colors. Once the colors were chosen, he went back and filled in a stain of color over the charcoal sketch with oils. When he achieved what he wanted, he proceeded to finish the painting. He was able to achieve some incredibly vivid colors.”

Blue Hills, Los Gatos, ca. 1943, by Marques Edwin Reitzel (1896-1963)
Ranch near Pescadero, California, 1936, by Marques Edwin Reitzel (1896-1963)

Elizabeth A. Rockwell (1835-1911)

Born: 1935, New York

Died: 1911, Unknown

Rockwell begin painting at age eight, later studying drawing and painting at the Troy Conference Academy in Fulton, Vermont. She left for Brussels at the age of 32 to study art, travelling Europe for the next three years. After returning to New York for several years, she boarded a train in 1873 bound for San Francisco.

Rockwell opened a studio shortly after her arrival, and was well received by the public. The Mechanic's Institute awarded her a diploma for finest miniature painting, and she earned several important commissions. These include portraits of former U.S. Treasurer from 1881 to 1884, Charles J. Folger, for New York's State Capitol, and the 16th Governor of California, Washington Bartlett, for the California State Capitol.

Socrates Kirk, pioneer and successful orchardist, commissioned this portrait after his son fell to his death from a horse-drawn sled in their prune orchard.

Johnny Kirk, ca. 1886, by Elizabeth A. Rockwell (1835-1911)

Robert K. Semans (1943- )

Born: 1943, Burbank, California

Semans enrolled as an art student at San José State University in 1968, studying under Maynard D. Stewart. After completing his Master's Degree in 1970, Semans moved to Florence, Italy, where he worked for the next two years in the studio of famed Italian teacher Nerina Simi. During his second year, he taught painting and drawing at Gonzaga University's extension program, Gonzaga-in-Florence, which led to an invitation to be Artist-in-Residence at Seattle University in Seattle, Washington. There he began his work in portraiture, painting several prominent figures in the Seattle community. Although Semans paints a variety of subject matter from landscape to still life, he prefers the challenge of painting people. For more information on Semans' work, please visit www.robertksemans.com.

Tom McEnery, ca. 1983, by Robert K. Semans. McEnery was Mayor of San Jose from 1983 to 1990.

Frank Van Sloun (1879-1938)

Born: November 4, 1879, St Paul, Minnesota 

Died: August 27, 1938, San Francisco, California

Van Sloun settled in San Francisco in 1911 after living and painting in New York City. After teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley in 1926. He died in San Francisco on August 27, 1938 while preparing murals for the Golden Gate International Exposition.

Portrait of Young Woman, 1926, by Frank Van Sloun (1879-1938)

Artist Unknown

In 1824 Secundino and younger brother Teodoro Robles were the first non-Indians to discover cinnabar deposits. By 1845, when these deposits proved to be rich in quicksilver, Secundino and Teodoro received $13,000 in cash and four of 24 total shares in the developing New Almaden mine. The brothers purchased Jose Pena's 8500-acre Rancho Rincon de San Francisquito for $3500 -- an enormous sum at the time. They built a two-story hacienda on what is now Alma Street, which Secundino nicknamed Rancho Santa Rita after one of his daughters. The Robles family was famous for hosting lavish parties. Entertainment often included bear and bullfights, music and dancing, and even a traveling circus.

Robles divorced his first wife in 1855 over a mystery woman named Lola, and lost half of his share of Rancho Rincon de San Francisquito in the divorce. A marriage license for Maria Ampara Najar and Teodoro shows that they married on September 2, 1864. The portrait shown here is assumed to be Maria Ampara Najar; however it could be Teodoro's first wife, which would date the painting around 1850. Notice that her wedding ring is prominently featured in the composition.

Teodoro E. Robles, ca. 1865, Unknown artist
Maria Ampara Najar, ca. 1865, Unknown artist

Artist Unknown

Calvin Martin (1818) came to California via the Overland Trail, arriving in Sacramento in 1849. Like many other pioneers, he tried his hand searching for gold along the American River. He continued on to Mission San José, where he began a profitable cattle business. In 1850, he partnered with William Aikinhead and opened one of the first livery stables in San José, located on San Fernando Street. Later he opened a second, larger stable on Santa Clara Street. Martin married Frances Leyba of Sonora, Mexico, in 1853, and their family grew to 13 children. Ultimately the Martins owned two city blocks of San José business property as well as a local 470-acre ranch.

Calvin Martin, ca. 1870, Unknown artist
Frances Martin, ca. 1870, Unknown artist
Credits: Story

Curated and produced by — Collections and Exhibitions Staff, History San José

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