Artscapes: New Hilbert Museum Displays Art Donated by Newport Residents

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Mark & Jan Hilbert
Mark & Jan Hilbert

Chapman University’s new Hilbert Museum of California Art opens next weekend, and while the museum is on the University’s Orange campus, it has close ties to Newport Beach.

The museum will house and exhibit a world-class collection of California Scene paintings donated to the University by Mark and Janet Hilbert of Newport Beach. This is the only museum in the nation to showcase the work of the California artists who visually captured the history and culture of the Golden State, from the 1920s to the present day.

The museum project came to life in November 2014, when Chapman announced that it had received a major gift of California art, valued at more than $7 million, from the Hilberts, in addition to $3 million from the couple toward establishing a museum on campus in which to permanently display the collection to the public.  

“This will be the first museum anywhere that is totally dedicated to the display of California Scene painting and California representational art,” said Mark Hilbert. “The intent will be to cast a spotlight on this style of painting and these amazing artists, and to make this art known around the world. California has its own style, its own light, its own distinct landscape.”  

“This is a very important gift to Chapman University, and we are honored that the Hilbert Collection of California Art has been placed into our care to share with our

Artwork by Millard Sheets
Artwork by Millard Sheets

students, the Chapman community and the public,” said Chapman Chancellor and President-Designate Daniele Struppa, Ph.D. “This very significant art, the lives of the artists, their place in California art and American art history, and the personal vision of the amazing couple who collected the works have much to teach all of us.” 

California Scene paintings are distinguished from the earlier style of California Impressionism because they show the works of humans within landscapes: towns, cities, harbors, houses, ranches, cars, trains, people going about their everyday lives. The paintings are also an important social document, depicting the changes taking place across California as the state grew, starting around 1920 and continuing throughout the 20th century and on into the 21st.

The Hilbert Museum will house a portion of the Hilbert Collection of more than 1,000 paintings – mostly works in watercolor and oil created from the 1930s to the 1970s by luminaries of the California Scene movement such as Millard Sheets, Emil Kosa Jr., Phil Dike, Milford Zornes and Rex Brandt.

The Hilberts have stated that they will donate more works from the collection to the University in the future. 

“We’re delighted that Chapman University will be the new home of these works we have devoted ourselves to collecting, and that they will be shared with the students, faculty, visiting researchers and the wider public,” said Mark Hilbert. “We feel that the University’s mission and Chapman’s unique location in historic Old Towne Orange, already a magnet for those interested in the rich California history of the area, make it the perfect location for a museum showcasing these works, inspiring people with their beauty and encouraging intellectual inquiry.” 

The museum is located at 167 N. Atchison Street in Orange, across the street from Ruby’s Diner and the Orange train station.

Admission to the museum is free and open to the public, and there is free parking adjacent to the building.

The first exhibition, curated by California Scene expert Gordon McClelland, is titled Narrative Visions: 20th Century California Art From the Hilbert Collection, and will feature an overview of works from the collection by acclaimed artists Emil Kosa Jr., Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Fletcher Martin, Rex Brandt, Phil Paradise, Milford Zornes, and many more. In addition, a recently published hardcover publication featuring 1,000 works from the collection will be available for purchase at the opening events.  

The grand opening is Friday, Feb. 26 from noon to 5 p.m. The grand opening celebration continues on Saturday, Feb. 27 from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

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