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A GUIDE TO GEORGE BERKELEY
AND THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PORTRAIT OF HIM

The name of our campus and the surrounding city is “Berkeley”, honoring philosopher George Berkeley. This portrait of George Berkeley is displayed in the Heyns Room of Doe Library. It was hung there in January, 2012, as part of the celebration of the Doe Library Centennial. Here are some frequently asked questions about the portrait and “Bishop Berkeley”.

How, why, and when was the Berkeley name selected for the campus?

The private College of California acquired what is now the Berkeley campus site in the 1850s / 60s with the goal of permanently locating the institution there. College Trustee Frederick Billings made the suggestion of the name “Berkeley” in 1866, while standing with some of his colleagues at Founder’s Rock on the campus, looking out over the then panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. Watching ships sail in and out of the unbridged Golden Gate, he recited out loud “Westward the course of empire takes its way…” a line from Berkeley’s 17th century poem, “On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in the Americas.”

The Trustees thought the suggestion was apt for a new college site on the western fringe of the North American continent, and adopted the name that same day. The name was continued when the College went out of business and gave its assets to the new University of California in 1868-69. By 1878, when the surrounding town incorporated, it was a familiar enough name that it was also officially chosen as the permanent identity of community as well as campus.

How did Berkeley pronounce his name?

“BARK-lay” is the common British and the Berkeley family pronunciation. But through generations of local usage, it has become tradition here to say “BERK-lee”. Neither is wrong; “Bark-lay” is the name of the man; “Berk-lee” is how we now say the name of our particular campus and community.

Bishop of what, exactly?

George Berkeley was, from 1734 until his death in 1753, the Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland. This was an appointment of the Church of Ireland, which is essentially the Irish branch of the “Anglican Communion”, the Church founded by Henry VIII after his break with the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of Ireland was the State (official) church in Ireland when Ireland was ruled by England, although most of the native Irish population remained Roman Catholic.

Cloyne is a town in County Cork, Munster, on the central southern coast of Ireland. George Berkeley served as Bishop there from 1734 to 1752. He then moved to Oxford, England, where he died in 1753 and is buried. There’s no separate Bishop of Cloyne today. Instead, Cloyne is part of the Church of Ireland bishopric of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

Is he a bishop in the painting? And what is he wearing?

The painting was started in 1728, when George Berkeley was in his early 40s. When he wrote his poem about arts and learning, and when he pursued his educational project in the American colonies, he was not yet Bishop of Cloyne. At the time he was Dean of Derry (appointed in 1724), another post in the church—thus “Dean Berkeley,” not yet “Bishop Berkeley.” After he returned to England from the Americas he was, in 1734, made Bishop of Cloyne.

Berkeley is shown dressed as a member of the Anglican clergy in a black cassock, or long-sleeved robe. Most of the images of Berkeley show him dressed in similar attire.

Did he really advocate “empire” as the poem says?

In his iconic poem, which he wrote around three centuries ago, Berkeley was writing about what he hoped would be “…another golden age – the rise of empire and the arts…” He envisioned this coming to pass in the new world of North America, surpassing the decadence and corruption of old Europe. He seems to have been calling for artistic, literary, and cultural enlightenment, not political or military conquest. His own connection to the Americas and higher education came in 1729-31 when he lived near Newport, Rhode Island, unsuccessfully trying to establish a college in the Americas that would serve both Native Americans and European colonists.

Berkeley scholar David Hilbert wrote, that in 1721 “Berkeley also published An Essay towards preventing the ruin of Great Britain in which he expressed his disgust with the current state of culture and morality in England…Sometime soon after writing his essay on the deplorable state of British civilization Berkeley formed the plan of founding a college in Bermuda. With the decline of Europe, the only hope for the future of civilization lay in the British colonies in America.”

It is also worth keeping in mind that in Berkeley’s day, what we think of as the “British Empire” was still far in the future. Spain and France were still great overseas powers, and England did not yet rule the oceans or have many overseas colonies. In Berkeley’s era, England was, in fact, still recovering from its own relatively recent domestic turmoil and civil war.

How is George Berkeley connected to higher education?

In the early 18th century George Berkeley conceived of the idea of establishing a college in the American colonies where both the children of European colonists and Native Americans could be educated. At the time most higher education was for religious purposes, so Berkeley also saw this as a way to teach Christianity to the natives and educate missionaries. Based in England, he decided that it would be best if the new college was located on Bermuda, an English-held island in the Atlantic. It may seem strange today to place such an institution in Bermuda and not on the mainland, but in that era the easiest way to get from one place to another along the Eastern seaboard was by sailing ship. A college offshore would be reasonably accessible from New England to the Carolinas.

Berkeley got a promise of funding for his venture from the English monarchy, and sailed in late 1728 to the colonies to lay the groundwork for establishing the college. He arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1729 and lived near there for a couple of years, while waiting for the promised money to arrive. Berkeley brought family members and friends to help with the venture. He bought a farm near Newport, which he called “Whitehall”, and occupied his time writing, preaching, and talking with other scholars in the colonies. This was a productive period of his life—he wrote some of his most important philosophical studies and influenced Americans, including the founders of what would become Columbia University. However, the English money for the college never came and in 1731 Berkeley returned to Ireland and England, leaving his Whitehall property as a gift to Yale University. He also made donations to Harvard.

What is ‘our’ portrait of Berkeley based on?

One of the people who accompanied George Berkeley to America was Scottish born painter, John Smibert (or Smybert). While Berkeley returned to England, Smibert decided to stay in the colonies, moving to Boston. He married an American and became one of the first prominent fine artists in the American colonies.

Before the Berkeley expedition left England, Smibert was commissioned to do a painting of George Berkeley and his friends which became known as the “Bermuda Group” because of the proposed location of the new college and because the people depicted were part of the college venture. Smibert later finished this painting in America. He was one of the few fine artists working in the colonies in that era, and the “Bermuda Group” became an influential work of art, seen by many. It was part of his estate at his death in 1751.

More than half a century later in 1808 Issac Lothrop, who then owned the “Bermuda Group” painting, donated it to Yale University where it became part of the collection at what is now the Yale University Art Gallery. The Berkeley connection was strong at Yale, where George Berkeley had visited during his American sojourn; there’s even a “Berkeley College” there honoring George Berkeley.

In 1873, when Frederick Billings decided to commission a portrait of Bishop Berkeley as a gift for the new University of California, John Weir was asked to do the painting. Weir was at Yale, with access to the “Bermuda Group” painting. He used it as a model for his figure of Berkeley for the UC painting.

How are the two paintings of Berkeley similar and different?

Smibert painted Berkeley from life, and as part of a larger group of figures. Weir, of course, was doing his painting a century and a half after Berkeley died, and was doing a solo portrait of the philosopher.

Comparing the two paintings, Weir appears to have carefully copied the head, general pose, and clothing of George Berkeley from the Smibert painting, but altered some aspects. He placed a pedestal under Berkeley’s elbow, and included on it the famous line “Westward the course of empire…” He also took a book off the table next to Berkeley and showed him holding it in the air.

Berkeley scholars also believe that the University of California portrait is the largest known depiction of George Berkeley, showing him approximately life size. The “Bermuda Group” painting doesn’t show life sized figures.

Was George Berkeley English or Irish?

The origins of the Berkeley family were in England so he was of English descent and he did live in England for part of his life. However his family was established in Ireland, he was born there, and he spent much of his life there both as a child and as an adult and was educated in Ireland. “Anglo-Irish” is probably a good characterization.

Notable places named “Berkeley” in England—like Berkeley Castle, and Berkeley Square in London—are connected to the larger family, but not directly related to Bishop George Berkeley.

What else is interesting about George Berkeley?

Did Bishop Berkeley ever visit Berkeley, California?

No. When he lived—the late 17th and first half of the 18th century—what would become Northern California was still terra incognita to the English, a largely unexplored coastal region with native inhabitants but no European settlers. The area had been “claimed” by adventurer Francis Drake for England on his voyage around the globe in 1578-80, but for all practical purposes it was, during George Berkeley’s life, the edge of the Spanish Empire.

But, as we’ve noted, Berkeley did come to another part of the future United States. From 1729 to 1731 he lived in Middletown, Rhode Island (just outside Newport), while attempting to found his college in the Americas.

Where was this portrait of George Berkeley prior to Doe Library?

The details aren’t fully known, but it did hang publicly in several campus buildings in the earlier decades of the University. By the 1970s it had been moved to University House, the on-campus residence of the Chancellor of the Berkeley campus. It hung in the stairwell, visible from the ground floor entry hall.

In 1997, extensive renovations began on University House and the furnishings were placed in storage or replaced. The portrait was sent to the Berkeley Art Museum where it was placed in safe storage. It was not returned to University House when the renovations were finished in 1998.

The return of the portrait to the central campus for long term display in Doe Library, starting in January 2012, brought the painting back in public view for the first time in 15 years.

Who owns the portrait? May I use an image of it?

The University of California owns it. It’s part of the permanent collection of the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive. Here’s the listing describing the painting from the BAM / PFA collections database.

Please visit the BAM / PFA website to find out how to obtain permission to use an image from the collection. Go to http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/about/faqs and scroll down to the question beginning “Can I reproduce works…

How many early paintings / images of George Berkeley are there?

One Berkeley scholar estimates there are about ten paintings of George Berkeley surviving that were done around his lifetime (ours, of course, was painted more than a century after his death). There are many later images of Berkeley, generally copying or based on the earlier portraits—paintings, engravings, prints, drawings, etc. Books of Berkeley philosophy often contained images of him. And the City of Berkeley itself still uses a drawing of George Berkeley on its official seal, although the seal is rarely used.

There’s another big painting hanging in the Heyns Room. What is it, and is it related to the Berkeley portrait?

The other painting is “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth”, painted by Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze. It was also an early gift to the University of California, and a part of the permanent collection of the BAM / PFA. It was hung here in the Heyns Room (then the East Reading Room) in 1993, after being on display for many years in the BAM / PFA galleries.

It depicts an episode in the American Revolution, when George Washington rode onto the battlefield at Monmouth and reversed a retreat that had been ordered by General Charles Lee. (Washington is on the dark horse, with the sword; Lee is to the left, on the white horse).

Leutze also painted the much more famous American Revolution scene, “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And, in 1860, he painted one of his other famous works that relates to Berkeley. It hangs in the Capitol in Washington D.C., showing pioneers crossing a mountain range towards a distant, golden, land and entitled, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way…” That title is the same as the quote from the Bishop Berkeley poem discussed earlier in this FAQ.

Historically, this is not the first occasion that large paintings have been hung in the Heyns Room at Doe. In the mid-20th century the upper walls of the room displayed reproductions of several paintings by the Spanish artist, Velasquez. These were later returned to Spain.

What are those names on the wall above the Berkeley painting?

The Heyns Room was designed and built in 1914-17 by University Supervising Architect John Galen Howard. The ornate ceiling is bordered by a frieze containing the names of fifteen notable writers and thinkers. Coincidently, but appropriately enough, the Berkeley portrait is hung below the inscription of the name of René Descartes who was, like George Berkeley, a philosopher with an interest in mathematics and science.

I’ve seen the name “Berkeley” in other places. Does every “Berkeley” reference relate directly to George Berkeley?

No. The Berkeley family has been around—by name—for many hundreds of years, so many things named “Berkeley” reference other, often earlier, family members and distant relations, or other people and places that just happen to be called “Berkeley”. For example, there’s a “Berkeley County” in West Virginia that was named for William Berkeley who was governor of the Colony of Virginia before George Berkeley was even born. There’s also a warship, the U.S.S. Berkeley, named for Major General Randolph C. Berkeley of the Marine Corps.

But there are also places elsewhere definitely named for Bishop Berkeley, such as “Berkeley College” at Yale University and the “Berkeley Library” at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, where George Berkeley studied.

Who was this Frederick Billings who suggested the name, “Berkeley”?

Billings was a well-educated New England lawyer who came West during the Gold Rush, not to mine gold, but to accompany his sister who had married a sea captain. Billings set up business as an attorney in San Francisco and became a leading legal figure in California; he also got involved in civic and educational activities including support for the early College of California, which he served as a trustee. Not long after he suggested the name “Berkeley” for the campus site, Billings returned East. Among his later activities he was the President of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the city of Billings, Montana, was named in his honor. The Billings Library (now the Billings Student Center) at the University of Vermont, his alma mater, was also named for him. In the later 19th century he became an early conservationist / environmentalist, and developed his estate in Vermont as a “model farm” to help reverse the damage from overgrazing by dairy cattle and over-cutting of Vermont’s forests. That farm—now the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park—is open to the public. http://www.nps.gov/mabi/index.htm

Further information:

Doe Library 2012 Centennial Site: http://doe100.berkeley.edu/

The text of Berkeley’s famed poem that inspired the campus name can be found at: http://www.berkeleyhistoricalsociety.org/history-notes/bishop-george-berkeley.html

The International Berkeley Society is an organization for those who study and admire the work of George Berkeley. The IBS website has numerous links to Bishop Berkeley-related philosophy and historical websites and information. http://georgeberkeley.tamu.edu/

Whitehall, the Berkeley family home in Middletown, Rhode Island, is open to the public: http://whitehallmuseumhouse.org/

The “Bermuda Group” portrait of George Berkeley, on which the University of California portrait was based, is owned by the Yale University Art Gallery and is described at: http://ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=21

An article by University Librarian Tom Leonard on the “Washington Rallying The Troops at Monmouth” painting that also hangs in the Heyns Room: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/give/bene70/bene70story4.html

An article on the history of Founder’s Rock, where the name “Berkeley” was suggested: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-04-15/article/35036?headline=150-Years-Ago-Berkeley-Campus-Was-Dedicated-to-Learning--By-Steven-Finacom

(The text for this FAQ was researched and written by Steven Finacom as part of the Doe Library Centennial in 2011/12.)

Portrait of George Berkeley