Paintings of the 21 Old Spanish Missions of California by Edwin Deakin - their story and conservation by Scott M. Haskins

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One of the paintings by Edwin Deakin. © Santa Barbara Mission Archives Library. Photos by Fine Art Conservation Laboratories

Twenty-one famous oil paintings of the old Spanish missions of California painted by Edwin Deakin between 1897 and 1899 are part of the collection at the Santa Barbara Mission Archives Library in Santa Barbara, California under the direction of Dr. Monica Orozco.
In the 1800's, many artists painted the California missions, especially closer to the turn of the century with the onset of the popular Arts and Crafts movement, or more particularly in the Southwest and California, the Spanish Revival or Mission Style.
Artist Henry Chapman Ford was not only the first to paint the 21 California missions but may have seriously fuelled the fire of the Spanish Revival style in California when he made them popular in the 1870’s. He was years ahead of others when he made a concerted effort to inspire the masses with romantic feelings and the historical appeal of the era, producing multiple copies of his paintings (though of much lesser quality), making very appealing engravings and publishing a book of his works. In fact, by the late 1880’s he exhibited his paintings as a collection and probably inspired other artists, like Deakin, to go out on the road and paint this very popular subject matter. Edwin Deakin was only the second artist to paint together all the missions as a set. All the other artists just painted their favourite mission or the ones easily accessible. It was no easy feat to visit them all, on site. Of all the artists who painted the missions in the 1800's, Deakin's theatrically-lit, old Spanish mission paintings, are the most beautiful, the most artistic and of the highest quality.
So loved were these paintings by the artist that when they were finished, he set a high price on them individually, and as a collection, so that they would never sell and they would stay together as a collection.
The strategy worked and all 21 paintings have stayed together over the decades. The paintings have been well cared for over the past 120 years and have reached modern days in good condition.
Through the very generous donation of Elaine and Howard Willoughby, the complete set found a final resting place and were donated to the Santa Barbara Archive and Library in the 1950’s.
Let me share with you some of the conservation and art restoration interventions that were performed recently to help these paintings look their best. The treatment was capture on video to better share the various phases of the intervention; here is the link to the video.
Tests were performed to make sure that the treatments were safe for the artwork. The cleaning phases in the video shows how discoloured the varnish layers were. As we removed the varnish layers from the paintings it is possible to see the difference that the treatment it made in returning the paintings to their original colours. Gathers on the corners of the paintings were relaxed and pulled out. The original frames had oxidized, had changed colour and were splitting at the corners.
Deakin painted his crest and signature at the back of many of the paintings and often made notations and this feature is clearly visible in the video.
A quick review of all 21 paintings in this collection after the conservation treatments is also part of the recording.
As previously mentioned, when Deakin painted these works, these historic structures were being re-appreciated, re-valued and the “Mission Style” was becoming very popular. Not only did Deakin love the culture around the missions but he wanted to see them restored and revitalised although his feelings were not necessarily shared by other artists of the time. For example, both William Keith, known as “The Artist of California” and Gutzon Borglum declared that they “would like to see the missions left in their neglected condition as a reminder of the pastoral time, never to return, and because of the romantic and mystical feeling they evoked.”
Deakin's exhibition in the 1900’s of these 21 paintings was perfectly in line with the “Spanish Revival” movement in America and the popularity of the Mission Style. Both of these socially accepted artistic design styles were a-variation-on-a-theme of the Arts and Crafts Movement, so popular internationally. The response to Deakin's paintings was enthusiastic; Sunset State Magazine called them “the greatest work of a California artist.”
It's been exciting, a great pleasure and honour for us to provide painting conservation services for the Santa Barbara Mission Archive and Library (SBMAL) on these wonderful paintings by Edwin Deakin, so that they will be enjoyed by future generations.

Thanks are expressed to Oriana Montemurro and Virginia Panizzon, painting conservators at FACL, for their skill and professionalism that were put into the art conservation treatments on these paintings. It was truly a labour of love.

About the Author
Scott M. Haskins is Head of Conservation at Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara, CA. In 1978, he gained a Masters degree in painting conservation from a programme run in conjunction with the Istituto Centrale del Restauro (ICR) in Rome, Italy. Between 1978 and 1984 he established the painting conservation laboratory at Brigham Young University, in Utah, USA which also served the historical collection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scott can be contacted at