Organized by the

Bowers Museum of Cultural Art
Santa Ana, California

- Exhibition List PDF -
- Exhibition Information -
- Artist Bio -

One of the major goals of American Nineteenth Century still life painters was to realistically render objects so that the human eye might be fooled into believing the objects were real. Art historians use the French term "troupe l’oeil," meaning "fool the eye" to describe such works. The California/New York painters, William and Alberta McCloskey, were masters of this kind of illusionistic painting. Art historians and collectors have long been curious to know more about the McCloskeys, who previously were known only through the approximately 20 still lifes that surfaced at auctions or were known to be held in museum collections.

Therefore, it is exciting to learn that the Bowers Museum owns a collection of 39 paintings by the couple which demonstrate that they painted not only still lifes but also portraits and genre scenes. These works have rarely been shown to the public. The emphasis has been placed on still lifes and genre painting produced by the couple during the years of their marriage (1883 to 1898). Also featured are a few of the portraits painted by William in Los Angeles after 1915. Many of the McCloskey paintings have been restored to their original brilliance and the first-ever biography on the couple is now complete. In order to best show the artists' growth in subject and medium, the exhibit is arranged by subject matter. Each grouping is prefaced by an explanatory label. Before proceeding through the exhibit, mentally step back to the era of horse drawn carriages, electric trolleys, and leg-o-mutton sleeves, and imagine the McCloskey's paintings hanging in large, dimly-lit rooms amid highly carved Victorian furniture.

This exhibition of 39 oil and watercolor works of art is the largest gathering of McCloskey paintings compiled to date. These exquisite still life and insightful portrait paintings have continued to gain recognition in American art circles. Original research shows the influence of Alberta Binford McCloskey (perhaps the better known of the two) during a time when few women painters received recognition. The works are drawn from the Bowers Museum’s permanent collection.








Exhibition Information


39 paintings


A full color catalogue

An exhibition gallery guide

Space req:

220 running feet approx

Exhibition Fee:

upon request - plus shipping and insurance

Dates Available:

June 2012 onward


Landau Traveling Exhibitions
310 397 3098


William J. McCloskey & Alberta Binford McCloskey

William J. McCloskey Born: 1859, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America Died: 1941, Orange, California, United States of America. A painter of still-lifes, portraits, and genre scenes (portrayals of everyday life), William J. McCloskey was an important figure in California’s early art scene who is best known for exquisitely painted images of oranges and other fruit. McCloskey was a native of Philadelphia, where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under history painter Christian Schussele (1824–1879) and Thomas Eakins, a master of realism and exacting technique. His early attraction to still-life painting may reflect the influence of the Peale family of painters, still-life masters who had dominated the art world Philadelphia earlier in the century. In 1882, shortly after completing his studies, McCloskey took up a teaching position in Denver, Colorado, where he met Alberta Binford (1855–1911), a talented artist in her own right. The two married in 1883 and the following year moved to Los Angeles. Apparently already successful and prominent artists in the West, the McCloskeys quickly became mainstays of the young city’s burgeoning art scene.

Notwithstanding their success in California, the McCloskeys moved to New York, the nation’s art capital, in late 1885 or early 1886. In the five years that followed, they developed their specialization in fruit and floral still-life painting. Working both separately and collaboratively, they typically painted objects casually arranged and dramatically lit on polished mahogany tabletops with rich, dark drapery backgrounds. Alberta painted more exotic and visually varied fruits and took up floral painting, while her husband focused on globular fruit such as apples and oranges, typically showing them partly emerging from crisp wrapping. Both painted the produce of individual species with a high degree of accuracy and specificity, often reflected in their titles. Their highly finished works belong in a then contemporary American trend in still-life painting known as trompe l’oeil (French for “fool the eye”), characterized by a perfect illusionism. In New York, the McCloskeys also began painting somewhat sentimental genre scenes, often posing their daughter for photographs from which they painted, in the manner of William’s teacher Eakins. They continued the lucrative practice of portraiture they had begun in California, and made illustrations for popular lithographic prints and other publications.

Throughout their joint and separate careers, the McCloskeys were extremely mobile, traveling throughout the United States and Europe to fulfill portrait commissions and to exhibit and promote their work. They spent periods of time in San Francisco, London, Paris, Salt Lake City, and New York, in addition to Los Angeles. When the couple separated in 1898, William remained in California, moving to Oregon in the mid-1920s. In the latter part of his career, he saw his traditional technique and style become outmoded. Both McCloskeys were relatively forgotten until 1996, when a major retrospective at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, California, a repository for many of their works, reintroduced their once-celebrated art.