The Irvine Museum Collection
The Irvine Museum was established in 1992 by Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke, Joan Irvine Smith, and James Irvine Swinden to promote appreciation for California’s art. Clarke, Smith, and Swinden are all descendants of James Irvine who founded Irvine Ranch, the sprawling agricultural property that evolved into the city named for the family.
Swinden and UCI signed a gift agreement in October 2016, transferring a selection of works from The Irvine Museum Collection amassed by his mother, Joan Irvine Smith (1933 – 2019). In accepting the gift, the university agreed to move forward on plans to build an art museum on campus to house the collection, which is consistent with UCI’s original master plan by architect William Pereira to situate an art museum at the center of the academic experience.
Comprising over 1,300 works—including California Impressionism and plein air paintings from 1890 – 1930—the collection depicts the State’s distinctive natural environments and features, revealing facets of California's late 19th through early 20th century history, society, and culture. The collection includes paintings, drawings, sketches, and objects by seminal artists such as Franz Bischoff, Jessie Arms Botke, Alson Skinner Clark, Elanor Colburn, Frank Cuprien, Armin Hansen, Anna Althea Hills, Arthur Mathews, Granville Redmond, William Ritschel, Guy Rose, Donna Schuster, William Wendt, and many others. As evidenced in the work, artists in the collection were inspired by the Golden State’s distinctive light, tones, and palettes and contributed to the nation’s early conception of California, its social contexts, and the West.
A lifelong naturalist and environmental preservationist, Smith assembled a collection that captured California’s undeveloped landscape, rugged seascapes, and her childhood memories of life on the Irvine Ranch. In addition to their significance as artworks, she saw them as historical records and reflective of artists’ reverence for nature—a passion she shared.