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Edwin Deakin
american (b. england)
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Sheffield, ENgland
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A painter of picturesque scenes of San Francisco’s Chinatown, European buildings and California views, Edwin Deakin is best known for his series of paintings of California’s twenty-one Franciscan missions. Deakin was born in 1838 in Sheffield, in England’s midlands. The family moved south to Wolverhampton (near Birmingham) in 1850, where Deakin was apprenticed to a firm that specialized in lacquer decorations for furniture. In 1856 they emigrated to America, settling in Chicago, where Deakin’s father opened a hardware store and Deakin found work hand-coloring photographs. He married in 1865 and their first child was born the next year A self-taught artist, Deakin had turned to painting by 1867 and exhibited a work at the Crosby Art Gallery in Chicago around 1870. He and his family visited San Francisco that year, where he participated in an art exhibits and made his first depiction of a California mission when he sketched San Francisco’s Mission Dolores; a later painting of the mission was shown at a local gallery in November. Deakin and his family returned to Chicago in 1871, but losses in the Great Chicago Fire that year prompted him to return to San Francisco, where he specialized in painting landscapes depicting scenes from Illinois, California and views he sketched during his rail journeys when he traveled to Chicago in 1871 and again in 1872. Deakin exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association’s first exhibition in June, 1972 and took sketching trips to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Valley. For the next several years Deakin took several sketching trips to various parts of California, sold paintings at auctions and participated in art exhibitions at the Mechanics’ Institute. He began sharing studio space in 1875 with Samuel Marsden Brookes (1816-1892), a fellow member of the Bohemian Club. Deakin created several paintings of Brookes in their studio, one of which is in the Fine Arts Museums’ collection. After having raised funds at a 1877 auction of his works, Deakin traveled to Europe, visiting Switzerland, London and Paris, where he sketched numerous scenes he later rendered in oil paintings after his return to San Francisco in 1879. With the California art market in recession and the demand for landscape paintings slackening, Deakin changed his focus to architectural views, where were well received. He extended his marketing to the Midwest with a long trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, exhibiting and selling works in both cities, and traveled to New York City the next year. He then moved his family to Denver in 1882, but return to San Francisco at the end of the following year by way of Salt Lake City. After his return he painted numerous still lifes, particularly studies of bunches of grapes, one of which is in the Museums’ collection. An 1883 Chinatown parade inspired him to begin painting picturesque scenes of Chinatown, which proved to be very popular. Deakin won a silver medal at the 1886 California State Fair for the “Best Fruit Piece” and a gold medal at the Fair in 1887. A trip to London and Paris in 1888 provided material for several new paintings on his return. In 1890 Deakin bought a parcel of land in Berkeley, where he built a studio and home, and began to paint more scenes of the East Bay. His views of European buildings did not sell well at an 1893 auction, so Deakin returned to California landscapes. Although he had painted views of a number of California missions in earlier years, from 1897 to 1899 Deakin focused on his three sets of views of the twenty-one missions, two sets of oil paintings and a third done in watercolors. He relied on old photographs or paintings for those missions that had been destroyed to depict them as they once were. Deakin then published a book of black-and-white reproductions of his series as The Twenty-one Missions of California (1899) and arranged for an exhibition of the set at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco the following year. Deakin refused to sell any of the mission paintings individually, but was unable to sell any of the three sets during his lifetime. The 1906 earthquake did not greatly harm Deakin’s Berkeley home and studio. From the East Bay he painted scenes of San Francisco’s fire, and followed on with scenes of the destroyed city. He continued to paint and exhibit during the years following, including views of the buildings of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, particularly the Palace of Fine Arts. He held a retrospective of his work in his Berkeley studio in 1918. He died in 1923 in Berkeley. (TNB 1/2015) Selected bibliography: Shields, Scott. Edwin Deakin: California Painter of the Picturesque. Exhibition catalog. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum, 2008.