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Gilbert Munger

Paintings in Inventory

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Christmas Gulch

Gilbert Munger grew up in Washington, D.C. where he showed artistic inclinations at an early age. While still a teen-ager, he was hired as an engraver by the Smithsonian Institution and later signed on as artist for Clarence King's various survey expeditions. A scrupulous realist working in the Hudson River School tradition, Munger settled in San Francisco in 1869 and immediately was considered one of the city's leading landscape painters. In 1873 Munger went back east and then to Europe where he experienced success painting in the then popular Barbizon style. 

A Glimpse of the Pacific is a major work from Munger’s San Francisco period and one of the earliest true “luminist” paintings done on the West Coast.  The painting depicts the sand dunes on the western edge of San Francisco just south of the Cliff House—a popular resort and restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As in most luminist paintings, a simple composition, half of it sky, creates a sense of a vast universe in which man and his problems play a minor role. In fact, the only human presence in this work consists of two tiny figures at the distant edge of the dunes. The San Francisco Call of May 13, 1870 praised “the dark firm breadth of the hill, so direct against the long, warm, yellow sand of the beach, stretching miles away against the hazy blue of the ocean… Its entire simplicity is its power.” “Caliban” (H.A. Stuart) reviewing the painting in the daily newspaper Alta California wrote, “The most striking feature of the painting is its serenity. It seems the embodiment of quiet—the antithesis of tumult.” (June 5, 1870). Paintings like this presented a vision of nature that counteracted the clamor and pollution of the urban experience during the post-Industrial age. Today, this painting preserves the memory of how western San Francisco looked before development covered the sand dunes with streets and blocks of houses.

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