Framing Meyer Straus and a Land of Hopeful Immigrants

For power and charm of capturing a historical moment, this painting by early San Francisco artist Meyer Straus (1831-1905) is hard to beat. It’s another we framed for North Point Gallery, whose current exhibit, “Historical Artists of the East Bay” is a must-see. (A customer who has followed North Point Gallery for 30 years told me yesterday that this is the best show he’s ever seen there.) I have to tell you up front, though, that this one sold and is no longer on display. Still, I enjoy the painting and am very pleased with how the framing turned out—a window into, and celebration of, one of the enormously important immigrant communities then shaping the burgeoning metropolis. Meyer too, a native of Germany, was himself an immigrant.

Framed Meyer Straus painting

Meyer Straus, untitled (street scene of San Francisco Chinatown), 1886. Oil on panel, 12-3/4″ x 9-3/4″.

The frame is a 3″ slope in our profile No. 238. It’s in quartersawn white oak (Medieval Oak stain) with a gilt liner. The beveled form echoes the pitch of the roofs, while the fine bead near the sight edge and the narrow cove at the outside edge harmonize with the refined details of the nineteenth century buildings as well as the painter’s fine depiction of those details. (Straus was an outspoken critic of the looser impressionist style, which he described as looking as if it were done with the back of the hand.)

The painting is inscribed “Dupont and Jackson, June 15, ’86” at the lower left. Alfred Harrison, leading historian of California painting and proprietor of North Point Gallery, has this to say about it:

Meyer Straus was born in Germany and came to America as a teen-ager, developing into an artist who painted the backdrops to theatrical productions. He followed this occupation after his move to San Francisco in 1875 but soon devoted all his time to easel paintings. Our painting depicts “Dupont Street,” whose name was changed to “Grant” after the death of Ulysses S. Grant. It captures the exotic nature of nineteenth-century Chinatown, with colorful lanterns in vivid orange tones, and a huge pennant that floats above the buildings. This painting is a rare record in color of how Chinatown looked in 1880s San Francisco.

The show is on through June 30.

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