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The Mission Era: California Under Spain and Mexico and Reminiscences, ca. 1850-1878
BANC PIC 19xx.039--ALB  
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: The Mission Era: California Under Spain and Mexico and Reminiscences
    Date: ca. 1850-1878
    Collection Number: BANC PIC 19xx.039--ALB
    Artist: Edward Vischer
    Extent: 49 water-colored drawings, various sizes; 4 albumen prints, various sizes; 2 title leaves; 1 index; all on 53 mounts, 24.7 x 34.3 cm. 51 digital objects
    Repository: The Bancroft Library.
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English

    Information for Researchers


    Restricted originals. Use viewing prints only: Shelved as BANC PIC 19xx.039--PIC. Use of originals only by permission of the Curator of Pictorial Collections, The Bancroft Library.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
    Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], The Mission Era: California Under Spain and Mexico and Reminiscences, ca. 1850-1878, BANC PIC 19xx.039--ALB, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Digital Representations Available

    Digital representations of selected original pictorial materials are available in the list of materials below. Digital image files were prepared from selected Library originals by the Library Photographic Service. Library originals were copied onto 35mm color transparency film; the film was scanned and transferred to Kodak Photo CD (by Custom Process); and the Photo CD files were color-corrected and saved in JFIF (JPEG) format for use as viewing files.

    Related Collections

    The following list represents a selection of the material held by The Bancroft Library related to Edward Vischer. For additional holdings, please refer to the on-line catalog.
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1905.00004--C:
    Title: San Francisco from the Bay
    Identifier/Call Number: F860.V5.O22:
    Title: The Vischer Family Papers : A Descriptive Catalog
    Identifier/Call Number: xf F591.H72.V5;
    Identifier/Call Number: xf F866.V83;
    Identifier/Call Number: x F866.V83 1870:
    Title: Vischer's Pictorial of California
    Identifier/Call Number: xf F870.S4.V5:
    Title: Vischer's Views of California : The Mammoth Tree Grove, Calaveras County, California, and its Avenues
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1977.048--A:
    Title: Visit to the Ruins of the Mission of San Carlos in October 1867

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Mission Era collection was acquired at the bequest of Hubert Vischer.


    Edward Vischer was born April 6, 1808, in Regensburg (Ratsdon), Bavaria. At the age of 19 Vischer went to Mexico, where he was employed by the enterprising trader Heinrich Virmond, whose Acapulco-based company was well established along the Pacific Coast from Alta California to South America. From Virmond Vischer acquired much practical knowledge of the commercial shipping activity along the Pacific Coast, and learned much about the various inhabitants and cultures of Alta California. In 1835, while on a business lay-over in Callao, Peru, Vischer lived with artist and fellow Bavarian Mauritius Rugendas, who would eventually gain international recognition for his pictorial documentation of points of interest in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. During this time, Vischer and Rugendas entertained Charles Darwin, who had just completed a survey expedition in the Straits of Magellan.
    In 1842, Virmond sent Vischer to Alta California with letters of introduction to several important military, governmental and ecclesiastical officials. During the voyage, which impressed him favorably, Vischer traveled with artist Jean Jacques Vioget (credited to be the first to paint a view of Yerba Buena), met Mexican military leader Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, visited many of the Franciscan missions and other points of interest, and was instrumental in convincing U.S. Commodore Thomas Jones to give up Jones' recent occupation of Monterey, which was ordered according to outdated reports on the state of affairs between the United States and Mexico.
    In the early 1840s, Vischer married Pilar Salguerra of Acapulco, with whom he would have one daughter, Adelaide. While in Mexico, Vischer also wrote several articles documenting various features of the Acapulco region, which he sent to his mother in Germany for publication. Vischer often produced sketches to accompany his articles, a practice --perhaps influenced by his association with Rugendas --which he would continue to develop.
    In 1849, after learning of the California Gold Rush, Vischer moved to San Francisco. Encouraged by promising local business prospects, he quickly established himself as a reliable commission merchant. Expanding his enterprise to real estate, Vischer in short time become an extremely successful mortgage broker and wealthy property owner. Vischer also served as San Francisco's Austrian Consul. Always intent on attracting European investment in California commerce, Vischer continued to send articles to Germany which enthusiastically lauded the state's potential for development. In 1852, after divorcing Pilar, Vischer married Sophia Prince-Smith, a young English woman whom he met while on a voyage to Europe and whom he had been courting via correspondence for over five years. In 1854 their son Hubert was born (an earlier child died in infancy).
    The following year, during a severe statewide depression, Vischer lost most of his assets and was forced to declare bankruptcy. Despite his losses, Vischer was still able to retain a degree of luxury which afforded him the opportunity to pursue what became an increasingly ambitious project: the creation and publication of a collection of drawings, accompanied by descriptive text, which would constitute a comprehensive pictorial representation of California. In 1862 Vischer published The Mammoth Tree Grove, Calaveras County, California, and its Avenues, an album of lithographic reproductions of his drawings of the scenic area. Disappointed with the quality of the album's reproductions, Vischer decided that the drawings of his next collection --"Sketches of the Washoe Mining Region," also published in 1862 --would be reproduced photographically. Satisfied with these results, Vischer would publish all his subsequent collections in this manner.
    In 1870, after traveling throughout the state and compiling a large portfolio of sketches --some of which were made by his friend and travel companion William H. Hilton --Vischer published the Pictorial of California. Many years in the making, and containing reproductions of nearly 200 drawings, the Pictorial of California was the first such comprehensive "pictorial" to document the scenic attractions of California. In the publication's preface, Vischer explains the compilation's objective:
    "The aim and purpose of views selected from several hundred of our own sketches in every part of California, has been to represent as truthfully as lay within our power, the natural characteristics of this favored country."
    In 1872, Vischer published as a supplement to the Pictorial an album of drawings of California's Franciscan missions, a subject of much interest to him. For the remainder of his life, Vischer would continue to produce sketches of California scenery --especially of the missions --and revise his Pictorial. In 1878, the year of his death, Vischer completed and bequeathed to his son The Mission Era: California Under Spain and Mexico and Reminiscences, a unique collection of water-colored drawings of the missions, many of them depicted as Vischer remembered them to be during his first visit to the state in 1842.

    Scope and Content

    Edward Vischer's The Mission Era: California Under Spain and Mexico and Reminiscences was completed in 1878 and bequeathed to Vischer's son Hubert upon the artist's death that same year. The collection contains 49 water-colored drawings primarily featuring California's twenty-one Franciscan missions and their environs. The collection also contains 4 photographic reproductions of drawings, an index to the missions, two title leaves, and the remaining covers of the original album box in which the drawings were presented.
    Compiled as a labor of love, The Mission Era offers a nostalgic pictorial representation of the twenty-one missions as they appeared during the mid-nineteenth century, after many of them had fallen into desuetude, if not outright decay. Fascinated with the mission life he witnessed while on his first visit to California in 1842, Vischer developed a great fondness for what he saw to be a symbol of a vanishing culture. The impression left upon Vischer by this first encounter is apparent in that many of the collection's drawings --the earliest of which were begun in 1861 --are in fact based on his recollections of the subjects as he first saw them during his 1842 visit (thus the "Reminiscences" of the title). Among the mission drawings is a set of views and ground plans provided by Vischer's longtime friend, Mexican General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Like Vischer, Vallejo often depicts his subjects as he remembers them to have appeared in the past, as early as the 1820s. Such artistic reconstruction provides a rare glimpse of the missions as they once appeared before their later decline.
    In addition to the missions and their immediate environs, other subjects pictured in the drawings include Mexican General Don Andrés Pico, the Monterey coast, the San Diego Valley, the Temecula Valley (at the time also known as Temecola Valley), the California Southern Overland Stage Line, the ruins of a Mormon residence in San Bernardino, and Doña Marcelina's grape-vine in Santa Barbara. Pictured in two of the photographic reproductions is a portrait of Vallejo, likely included to indicate that he was the supplier, if not also the artist, of the given views.
    Some of the collection's drawings are revised versions of earlier sketches made by Vischer during his travels of the 1850s and 1860s. Others are based on original sketches by William H. Hilton --who often accompanied Vischer on his drawing excursions --and "C. Hahn." The collection also includes the photographic reproduction of a painting by Josephine Bishop. Upon close inspection, several drawings reveal Vischer's occasional --and nearly undetectable --practice of pasting cut-out portions of one drawing onto a background, or within the scene, of another. Many drawings in the collection were reproduced for publication in Vischer's Pictorial of California.
    All the drawings in the collection are captioned in manuscript by Vischer. Many of the drawings also include explanatory text. The surviving original box covers to the collection are embossed with the collection's title and the artist's name. One of the covers bears the subtitle "Sketches." A third cover bears the embossed title, "Mission Sketches, 1861-1878," and a dedication to Vischer's son. The two title leaves probably served to divide the collection into two sections. One of the leaves bears the title, "Relics of the Past / Missions of Upper California / 1850 to 1878" (referring to item nos. 1-44?); the other, "Rural Scenes / Mementos of the Pastoral and Patriarchal Era / and / Reminiscences / of / Southern California" (referring to item nos. 45-50?). (It is not determined if Vischer established an ordering for the individual drawings.) The index lists the missions in the chronological order of their foundations.