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THE CALIFORNIOS: Portraits of Isidora Pacheco and Mariano Malarín by Leonardo Barbieri

Researched and Prepared by Katie Blok, Spring 2001

Leonardo Barbieri, Portrait of Isadora (Lola) Pacheco Malarin, 1852, oil on canvas, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Gift of Monserrat Roca, 1.756.
higher-resolution image

Mariano Malarín and Isidora Pacheco married in 1859, but their portraits were separately painted seven years earlier by Leonardo Barbieri. When the portraits were made in 1852-1853, both the artist and his sitters balanced on the edge of life-altering changes that would occur as California culturally transformed in the wake of the Gold Rush. These portraits capture not only a likeness of the people, but are also a record of a sometimes- overlooked population, the Californios, who were Spanish-speaking residents and landowners from Spanish and Mexican California before the United States takeover.

Isidoraís portrait was painted in 1852, probably before Marianoís. It is a reflection of the portrait painted of her sister Encarnación Pacheco, with which it most likely hung originally in the Pacheco home. In the painting the viewer immediately notices Leonardo Barbieriís attention to small details, including the faint hint of a mustache over the subjectís upper lip. He painted the rest of her face with oversized brown eyes, a long nose, and a conservative smile. Strictly parted down the middle, her dark brown hair circles the crown of her head in a braid.

In costume typical of womenís fashion for her era, Isidora sits in a rich purple velvet dress with three-quarter-length bell sleeves and a tight gathered bodice (matched to her sisterís portrait in a similar red dress.) Below her purple sleeves are white sleeves with intricate double lace cuffs. Her white lace collar is clasped with a gold ornament, like the three gold rings on her fingers, a sign of her wealthy status. Mirroring the portrait of her sister, she sits isolated against an olive colored background in a chair, her arm propped on a small table. Unlike her sisterís pose, however, she holds an object in her hand, an upside-down piece of sheet music with the date and the artistís name legible at the top.

Leonardo Barbieri, Portrait of Mariano Malarin, 1852-1853, oil on canvas, de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Gift of Monserrat Roca, 1.755.
higher-resolution image

Marianoís portrait shows him seated near a blue draped table stacked with books, perhaps to indicate his education. At age seven he was sent away to schools in the Oregon territory and then Peru until he returned home at twenty-two. The globe on the table also suggests his early world experience. In the same manner as his future wife, Mariano posed well dressed for his portrait. In a common menís fashion for the West, he wears a vest under his black coat and a formal pleated-front white shirt. His wavy brown hair is parted and brushed to the side, while his face is edged by a beard without a mustache. In the painting the very direct and calm gaze of his brown eyes seems to convey a confident self-assurance but also receptive compassion, a dignified portrait of a young man who had just assumed the leadership of his family upon his return to California in 1849.

The fact that portraits of Isidora and Mariano exist demonstrates they were members of prominent families who could afford to commemorate their status with a painting. In fact, the Pacheco-Malarín marriage united two of the most powerful Californio families in Monterey County. Francisco Pacheco, Isidoraís father, was most likely the wealthiest man in Monterey in 1851, due to his vast land holdings. He " selected" Mariano to marry Isidora when she was thirty years old, a strategic decision that shows his awareness of the importance of social status as well as wealth.

Though Isidoraís familyís business success brought them respect, prevailing prejudices about the inferiority of a Mexican ethnic background may have limited their social standing. Marianoís family, the Malaríns, was more of an aristocratic Californio family, of European descent, whose status came from their long-time establishment in California. His family line included two California governors and a link to the Moragas, one of the oldest Spanish families in California.

A family rumor recounted by Albert Shumate in his monograph on Isidoraís father hints that the socially elite Malarín family may have considered Marianoís marriage to Isidora to be beneath him. Although she was raised in the wealthiest family of Monterey County in her time, she was the daughter of a Mexican man who had built his own fortune after coming to California around 1819. By the time of the marriage in 1859 Francisco Pacheco owned about 150,000 acres of land. When Isidora became the last surviving heir (after her brother died in 1855) her father carefully selected a son-in-law who could help manage the wealth she would inherit. In Monterey and in California Marianoís family connections gave him a powerful status; however, at the time of the marriage the Malaríns had mortgaged or lost all of their ranchos except one.

As the rumor suggests, Isidora may have been conveniently matched with Mariano for his social status that could elevate her family, and Mariano may have accepted for financial reasons that could maintain his own. Whether this is true cannot be confirmed, but comparisons with photographs reveal that the portrait depicts Isidora with lighter, more European features than she actually had. Though their family backgrounds may have been different, once united Isidora and Mariano faced a different cultural combination together. During their lifetimes they saw several governmental shifts, as the Mexican California territory became a part of the United States.

The artist, Leonardo Barbieri, had a life similarly characterized by shifting cultural influences in a period of political turbulence during the 19th century. A major source for the biography of Barbieri comes from research by Bruce Kamerling. According to Kamerling, Barbieri was born in Savoy around 1810, a region of assorted French and Italian political alliances after Napoleon annexed it for France in 1800, and before it was returned to Italy in 1815. He crossed the border to study art in France, and crossed an ocean to develop his career in the Americas. By 1844 Barbieri was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he remained for only a brief period before moving to San Francisco around 1849. Between 1850 and 1853, Barbieri painted portraits of the major California landowners who had Mexican or Spanish-speaking cultural ties. The artist himself was at least tri-lingual; his letters were written in Italian, Spanish, and English. During the rise of an English-speaking population in the Gold Rush, his portraits chronicled the presence of the Spanish-speaking landowners often forgotten in California history accounts.

Typically, Leonardo Barbieri would take up residence with families while he painted their portraits, and this was probably the case when he came to Monterey around 1852. The portraits of Isidora and Mariano would have been painted when Barbieri stayed with their respective families. Together, five portraits from the Pacheco household and two portraits from the Malarín family are part of the de Saisset Museumí s permanent collection. Not only are they the largest surviving Barbieri family group, but also the largest group of existing Barbieri Californio portraits together in one collection. All seven portraits follow Barbieriís conventional three-quarters pose with seated subjects against monochromatic backgrounds. However, the details in the portraits of Isidora and Mariano make them unique among all of Barbieriís Californios.

In her hand, Isidora holds a meticulously painted, upside-down piece of sheet music with the date and Barbieriís name legible at the top. The two lines of upside-down lyrics written in Spanish are barely decipherable, but words in the first line include "bello" (beautiful) and "amor mi " (my love). Barbieri was so exact in his details that the music can be read with almost correct meter, complete with a key signature (D major), a playable song that could be a transcription of a once-popular piece. The significance of the music in Isidoraís life is unknown but its presence is unique. Of all the known Californio portraits by Barbieri, Isidora is the only woman to be pictured holding an object other than a decorative handkerchief, flower, fan, or book.

Marianoís portrait is also unique among the Barbieri portraits because of the mysterious inclusion of a trompe- líúil (French for "fool the eye") fly on his right hand. This device is used to "fool" the viewers into thinking the painting is so real that they cannot tell the difference between the reality of their world and the painted world in front of them. Barbieri was not known to employ the device in any other Californio portraits, and it was not common in American painting of that era. Though trompe- líúil devices were used in European Renaissance paintings, they gained popularity in America in the late 19th century. Barbieri may have been influenced to include the fly by his European experience and training, but his South American and Western United States travels should not have exposed him to other instances of trompe- líúil in American art.

The popularization of illusionistic devices in America flourished from about the 1870s to the 1890s in the movement known as the "Second School of Philadelphia" led by William Harnett, John Peto, and John Haberle; however, Barbieriís career was too early to be influenced by this movement. Interestingly, before the Second School an unusually early example of American trompe- líúil is in another portrait with a fly. A New York artist, John Mare (1739-1768), painted Portrait of John Keteltas in the late 18th century with a fly perched on his patronís wrist. Evidence does not show Barbieri had any interactions with the art of the Eastern or Northern United States, so the source of his fly remains a mystery.

Through he painted over thirty portraits of Californios, Leonardo Barbieri probably came to California in 1849 like many people with ambitions for wealth in the Gold Rush. However, the Gold Rush did not bring riches for Barbieri or the Californio landowners. They found that despite a guarantee of protection as California transferred from Mexican to United States rule, they would have to constantly battle to defend the rights to their land against the fierce westward expansion of the United States. According to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, the document that ended the Mexican-American War and transferred power to the United States, previous California residents were guaranteed protection of their land rights, but under the new government often that was not the case.

In 1851 the United States government established a Board of Land Commissioners to settle private land claims in California. The law, ostensibly intending to support landowners, required them to prove their ownership to receive official recognition with a land patent. The process was slow and frustrating, not to mention costly, because the burden of proof fell upon the private landowner to demonstrate his claim, and disputes stalled in the courts for years. In addition to the bureaucratic difficulties, the law and the required land surveys were sometimes qualified and adjusted to privilege expansion of the United States citizenry, especially under the pressures of the population upsurge during the Gold Rush. Mariano recounted problems with the United States government in his dictations that were familiar to many Californio landowners:

"In Washington they gave away the patent of a large strip of my land to a big cattle man and when I wrote about it they said they could not do anything because it was all given away. I told the man that I had sold that ranch and he told me it would cost you less to buy it outright than to contest itÖ. I went to Washington about it but could not get any redress, they could not tell from the maps where their land was. Their surveyors had mixed things so badly that some ranches were located where another ranch ought to be and their patents did not agree with their field notes."

As control of land shifted from a loosely governed Mexican territory to a new official member of the United States in 1850, the Californios also had to adapt their Spanish-speaking heritage to the influx of an English-speaking population. The once-dominant Spanish/Mexican inhabitants quickly became the minority force in their own towns and homes, where squatters or poor surveys cut into their land and Anglo-Americans pushed into the power structures of politics and commerce. Leonardo Barbieri himself seems to have been frustrated with adapting to the California way of life. The family portraits in Monterey represent his final works in California. After only four years in the state, he left for Mexico and then Peru, where he established an art school in Lima. At the end of his life Barbieri returned to his beginnings, moving back to Europe and eventually spending his last days in his hometown in Savoy.

As landowners Mariano and Isidora frequently fought for control of their property. Mariano indicated his frustration in his dictations, "I had a terrible lot of litigation with squatters and others as to my titles to land." In 1868 the Malaríns filed a petition to protest an U.S. Government survey that left out some better land in a portion of their property at Rancho San Luis Gonzaga (near the present day-city of Hollister). The U.S. Government declined to change the borders, partly reasoning that some of the land had already been sold to settlers. According to Mariano, "through squatters and bad surveys I lost at this time over 1100 acres of my land."

Despite the land disputes, during the cultural shift after the Gold Rush Mariano Malarín was able to maintain a prominent status in society and even held government positions; he was a member of the bar and served in the California State Assembly in 1859 and 1860. In office he introduced a resolution to require official documents to be printed in both English and Spanish. He also opposed a resolution to block "Chinese, Mongolians, and free Negroes" from entering California. In the later half of his life Mariano co-founded and held shares in the Madera and Flume Trading Company and also served as the first president of the San Jose Safe Deposit Bank, which was later sold to the Bank of Italy (which later became the Bank of America).

The Pacheco House, Isidoraís family home where she and Mariano first lived after their marriage, still stands today in Monterey. At some point in the 1860ís the Malaríns moved from Monterey to Santa Clara, close to their relatives, the Fatjo and Argüello families. According to Marianoís dictations, the reason for the move was also to be close to the federal courts in San Jose at the time of his land disputes. The Malarínsí Santa Clara house, which is no longer standing, was located at the corner of Washington and Santa Clara streets, one block away from the present Santa Clara University campus. Though SCU, the oldest college in California, recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, at that time Santa Clara College was barely ten years old. The family and the college developed side by side; some of the Malarín descendants who generously donated the paintings to the de Saisset in 1980 still lived in the area only three blocks away from the school.

Evidence about Mariano Malarínís life comes from business records and also an autobiographical dictation taken in 1891. Information about Isidoraís life is less available, most likely because she was a woman and her affairs would have been in a more private realm. Despite the absence of information on women in the Malarín family history, they maintain a powerful presence. Interestingly, the Pacheco/ Malarín land and wealth has been passed down exclusively through female members of the family. By Francisco Pachecoís death in 1860, as the only surviving child, Isidora was positioned to inherit most of the Pacheco holdings. The present-day Pacheco Pass, named after her family, was part of the land that she would inherit and pass on with Mariano to their two daughters. In the twentieth century, half of their San Luis Gonzanga rancho became the San Luis Reservoir in 1962. The other half is today Pacheco State Park in Merced County. Paula Fatjo, the great granddaughter of Isidora and Mariano, maintained the land as a ranch until her death in 1992, upon which she willed the remaining property to the state parks system.

Today, the names of state landmarks and the de Saisset portraits mark the presence of Californios in Gold Rush California. The lives of both the sitters and the artist were changed dramatically by the political turbulence of the 19th century at the onset of Californiaís statehood. Barbieriís portraits of Isidora Pacheco and Mariano Malarín remind us that what we know as California did not begin with the United States in 1850, but earlier with the lives of the Spanish-speaking residents and many others who built the social, political, and geographical systems from which the present-day state developed.


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