Exhibits & Collections

  • The Capitol Collection
  • Special Exhibits
  • Portraits
  • Murals
  • Statues
  • Capitol Family Art
  • Flag Collection

Located throughout both the historic State Capitol's west wing and the East Annex, the Capitol Art Program maintains three collected works of paintings: the Permanent Collection, the Loan Collection, and the Biennial Senate Contemporary Art Collection. The combined collection inludes hundreds of prized paintings, murals, statues, and antique furniture chosen to portray the various phases of California's history and depict significant eras of the State Capitol.

The Permanent Collection

More than 50 paintings in the Permanent Collection include landscapes, seascapes, still life, and paintings of scenes from ordinary life. Many of the paintings were gifts, others were acquired by the Legislature over the years as funds became available.

They are exhibited in accordance with two historic time frames. To be displayed in the west wing, a painting should have been created during the building's early, interpretive period, 1870 to 1910. Art displayed in the East Annex is from 1920 to 1950. Paintings from both time periods can be found in public hearing rooms and legislative offices.

The Loan Collection

The Loan Collection, consisting of more than 100 paintings loaned from various individuals and institutions, is mainly on display on the first floor of the west wing in legislative conference rooms and leadership offices. Paintings in this collection meet the same criteria as the others.

Over the last 20 years and through the generosity of many individuals and art institutions, the Loan Collection now includes well over 100 period paintings. Many are by California’s most respected artists, including Thomas Hill, William Keith, Raymond Dabb Yelland, and Edwin Deakin, and evoke that same "essence" of California as those in the permanent collection.

At this writing, some of the loaned pieces are at the State Capitol for very short time periods; others have stayed for years. The California Legislature and managers of the Capitol Collection are happy to review guidelines and conditions of the Loan Collection with any interested parties.

The Contemporary Art Collection

The California State Senate’s Contemporary Art Collection program, begun in 1997, recognizes and celebrates contemporary art created by the wide variety of artists throughout the state.

Every other year, each Senator is asked to select an artist who he or she feels best represents his or her district. In the past, they have been selected through school programs, senior centers, art galleries, and county art programs and arts councils. The result is a joint effort between the participating Senators and their artists.

These artists bring to the Capitol an extensive range of cultures, backgrounds and training. The media with which they work is also as varied — acrylics, oils, bronze sculpture, blown glass, mixed media, and watercolors. The talented, diverse, and colorful selection seen at each show is a testament to the fact that contemporary art is alive and well in California.

Murals

Additionally the Capitol is home to two stunning murals. One, installed on the walls of the west wing basement rotunda, is a fascinating depiction of California's past and future as perceived by artist Arthur Mathews during the years 1914 and 1915. Twelve panels portray the discovery of California, the Mission Period, Commodore Sloat entering Monterey Bay, the Gold Rush, other historic periods, and the artist's view of how California's future would appear.

The other important mural display is in the East Annex's John L. Burton Room on the fourth floor. The display consists of three gleaming, large murals created as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression entitled, The Origin of the Name of the State of California.

Governors' Portraits

Finally in 1931 the Legislature authorized and formalized the tradition of commissioning portraits of California's governors. Portraits of 36 governors are displayed throughout the west wing. The styles vary, depending on the Governor and the artist chosen to produce the portrait.

The Capitol Art Program is maintained by a curator. The curator conducts research, maintains files, develops exhibits, recommends conservation when needed, and transfers artwork when required. The curator also advises the Legislature on possible art purchases and donations.

Special Exhibits

Alongside the recreated historic offices of the Governor, Secretary of State, and Treasurer, the Capitol Museum maintains two exhibit rooms in which rotating exhibits are displayed. These exhibits center around the city of Sacramento, the state of California, and the State Legislature. While most exhibits last for one year, special short-term exhibits are sometimes installed.

Previous exhibit themes include the Dust Bowl’s effect on California and the Legislature’s response to it, and California’s role in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Special exhibits have displayed contemporary Native American art and the art of retired Capitol employees. Here you can find more information on the Museum’s current exhibit as well as previous ones.

Learn more about our Special Exhibits >>

Portraits of two of our nation's most respected leaders grace the Senate and Assembly Chambers. President George Washington's portrait resides in the Senate Chambers, while President Abraham Lincoln's portrait resides in the Assembly Chambers.

The tradition of commissioning California's gubernatorial portraits began in 1879, when the State Legislature selected artist William Cogswell to paint portraits of several former governors.

Learn more about the portraits >>

The Capitol is home to two stunning murals: The Mathews Mural (at left), a 1914 depiction of California's past, present, and future created for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

The Mathews Murals are an excellent example of a regional artistic style known as "California Decorative." Arthur F. Mathews, a prominent San Francisco artist, and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews combined a romantic classicism and idealism with a Renaissance color palette and California imagery to create this distinctive style.

The other, The Origin and Development of the Name of the State of California (at right), depicts the origin of the state's naming.

Painted by Lucile Lloyd and funded by the Depression-era program, the Works Progress Administration, the three panels tell the history of the name of California. The two side panels portray important flags that have flown over the state. The central panel shows the history and development of the state through the Spanish Mexican and American eras. Realistic figures trace the state’s history and vivid images illustrate the state’s unique natural beauty and resources.

Learn more about the murals >>

Pietro Mezzara, California's first major sculptor, created the statuary for the Capitol's rooftop and the pediment. Thirty figures, urns, and emblems adorned the Capitol in 1873.

Today only the statuary on the west front pediment tympanum (the recessed space enclosed by the triangular pediment) is original. These statues reflect the Capitol's roots in Greek architecture. In Grecian times statuary was considered part of the building, not as mere decoration. It was a way to visually communicate and transmit epics and mythology in a largely illiterate society.

A large statuary group titled Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella (at right) has occupied a prominent position at the center of the first floor rotunda since 1883 when Darius Ogden Mills gifted it to the State of California.

During the restoration of the statues in the 1970s, Native American and Latino groups, critical of Columbus’s legacy in ushering in an era of genocide and colonialism for the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, advocated that the statue not be returned to its former location after its temporary removal during the restoration. Despite such criticism, the statue was returned to the Capitol Rotunda.

Read more about the statues >>

The Joint Rules Committee and State Capitol Museum are proud to present "Capitol Family Art," an exhibit of paintings, mixed media, and sculpture by former legislators.

The men and women who work at the Capitol building are best known for wielding power, crafting legislation, making headlines and forging the unique story of California history. Some operate in front of the camera and others deep behind the scenes. Whether elected or a lobbyist or staff member, these men and women came to the Capitol from all walks of life and every point of view and learned the art of how to best operate in these marbled halls.

At the end of their working careers, these members of the Capitol family surprised us with their continuing passion for another kind of art.

Learn more >>

The Fabric of History

The State Capitol Museum has an impressive collection of 50 historic flags that were carried by California units in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War I.

The fragile flags are exhibited four at a time at various events during the year. The limited showings ensure the preservation and protection of this rare and irreplaceable collection. Some of these delicate banners are currently undergoing careful conservation and therefore have not been exhibited for several years.

The Civil War: California Troops did Their Part

During the Civil War California provided 17,119 enlistees and $173 million in gold to support the war effort.

In 1862, quotas for men to fight in the Eastern United States were issued for each state. California did not have to meet the quota since it was only required to defend the West Coast. However, when the state of Massachusetts was not able to meet its required quota, California agreed to send its own troops to represent the state. One hundred brave California men volunteered to be soldiers for Massachusetts and went on to fight in over 20 battles during the Civil War. These courageous men became known as the "California Hundred" and carried a flag bearing symbols representing their home state.

A year earlier in the late hours of Independence Day 1861 Major J. P. Gillis, a Confederate sympathizer, began waving a Confederate flag on the corner of 2nd and J Streets, in Sacramento. J.W. "Jack" Biderman witnessed the display and immediately wrestled the flag away from Mr. Gillis. Jack became somewhat of a local hero in Sacramento from the incident and would later be the first proprietor of the famous Silver Palace at the Central Pacific Rail Yard in West Sacramento.

The Guidon flag proudly carried by the "California Hundred" and the “Biderman Flag,” the only known California Confederate flag in public trust, are now a cherished part of the California’s Historic Flag Collection.

Capitol Park Memorials in their Honor

On May 1, 1897, Memorial Grove, a grove of tree saplings was planted in Capitol Park to honor all Civil War soldiers who lost their lives. This living monument includes trees from the battlefields of Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Savannah, Five Forks, Yellow Tavern, Vicksburg and other Civil War-related sites. Visit the Capitol Park Tour for more information.

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California State Capitol Museum
10th and L Streets
State Capitol
Room B-27
1315 10th Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 324-0333
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