Tuesday, March 1, 2011

California Governors' Portraits and The East Pasadena Connection

The election (or is it re-election?) of Jerry Brown as governor has me thinking about the Governors' Gallery, which is the gallery of portraits of the 40-odd California Governors.   The Gallery lines the halls of the Capitol Building in Sacramento.  It is also viewable online.

Thoughts of the Governors' Gallery, of course, make me think of East Pasadena pioneer William Cogswell.


We start with the official state portrait of  Governor Jerry Brown -- far and away the most unusual and controversial portrait in the Governors' Gallery.   Painted following Brown's eight year term ('75-'83), the portrait captures the then-young governor and probably also the reflective but anxious mood of the times. 

Actually, you could read a lot into this portrait.   But, one thing is for sure, the portrait is wildly different from any other portrait that hangs in the dignified halls of the Capitol Building. 


As you might guess, the interior of the Capitol Building is a regal blend of marble, dark woods and deep colors.   The distinctiveness of the Brown portrait fairly well screams out from the otherwise subdued Capitol hallways.

Most of the portraits in the Governors' Gallery look similar to this portrait of Henry Haight, who served as Governor from 1867-71:

Or this portrait of Haight's predecessor, Governor Frederick Low (sporting the popular King Tut beard):

So, here's the East Pasadena connection.

The Haight and Low portraits were painted by East Pasadena pioneer and famous artist, William Cogswell.   In fact, Cogswell painted the portraits of many early California Governors.    

Seems that in the early days of statehood, no one thought to commission Governors' portraits.  That oversight was corrected in 1879 when the State Legislature selected Cogswell to paint the portraits of many former governors.  Cogswell was by then a California resident.  In 1873 he had purchased land east of Eaton Wash and north of present day Foothill Blvd. where he co-founded the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel.

In all, Cogswell painted nine Governors' portraits.  So, as you walk the Capitol hallways, about one quarter of the portraits in the Governors' Gallery were painted by East Pasadena pioneer William Cogswell.  

The Governors' Gallery is not the only place in the Capitol where you'll find Cogswell's work.   Cogswell was most noted for his portrait of President Abraham Linicoln.  Begun during Lincoln's presidency and finished posthumously, the portrait was selected as the official White House portrait of President Lincoln.  Over the years, the enterprising Cogswell was also known to paint a few replicas of his famous Lincoln portrait.    Though now mysteriously missing, one of Cogswell's Lincolns hung in Pasadena's public library.   Another of his Lincoln portraits found its way into the Capitol Building.  Since 1909,  Cogswell's portrait of Abraham Lincoln has hung over the California State Assembly Chamber behind the Speaker's podium.

For more on Don Bachardy, who painted the Jerry Brown portrait, check out The Greatest Story Ever Told at Pasadena Adjacent.


Petrea said...

Michael, your historical posts are fascinating! This one is no exception.

I like the portrait of Brown. It may be unconventional but it's really well done.

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks Petrea! You know, the Brown portrait is kind of like wearing sneakers to a formal -- it's not what the invitation called for. In fact, many saw the portrait as an affront to tradition. But, his willingness to break with convention has always been a big part of Brown's appeal. Seems like a very appealing quality for our present time.

Petrea said...

Do you suppose he'll sit for a new portrait this time around? If so, I wonder what he'll do?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Brown's portrait is the work of Don Bachardy. Christopher Isherwood's long time partner. I did a post on him. He had a show several years back at the Huntington. He's known for his portraiture. Big fan.

Cafe Pasadena said...

I also appreciate these historical blog posts, EoA. I need to do another myself, but I have enuf problems finding time for the non-historical posts!

Michael Coppess said...

At the end of my post, I've added a direct link to PA's excellent piece on Bachardy.

Petrea, during the campaign Brown was asked to comment on his portrait hanging in the Governors' Gallery. I think he said something like, "I don't think it is finished." Kind of a coy answer, but also very apt. It will be interesting to follow Brown's term and to see how the man is reflected in a second portrait.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Thanks Michael. When it comes to "art" politicians are well advised to remain vague. Brown used to hang out in the gallery scene. My partner met Brown through his dealer.