By Crocker Staff

One of the most distinctive and memorable architectural features of the Crocker Art Museum is its oculus, located in the Museum’s historic building. When the original Crocker Art Gallery was completed in 1872, it was a place of splendor, featuring a full-length ballroom known for its beautiful parquet flooring.

Pictured: Crocker Mansion exterior and the central gallery of the original Crocker Art Gallery, before the oculus was cut into the floor. Images courtesy of Crocker Art Museum archives.

Through the decades, the elegant ballroom has boasted grand soirees and stately balls, and played host to illustrious heads of state, such as Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, and literary royalty, including Oscar Wilde. For more than a century, European paintings from the Crocker's permanent collection framed the oculus in a salon-style (floor to ceiling) presentation, offering visitors a chance to experience the gallery in the preferred style of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which echoed the splendor of 17th century salons in Paris.

European Gallery, Crocker Art Museum, 2010.

Today, the oculus is at the center of one of nation's top collections of 19th century German and Austrian paintings, many of which were collected by the Crocker family during their European tour from 1869-1871.

While the Museum’s historic building is, at times, filled with modern sights and sounds as visitors of all ages take delight in the artwork, the oculus serves as a window on the past. On a quiet day, it is not hard to imagine shadows of top hats moving by, or hear the brush of crinolines.

The oculus, or “light well”, was added as an afterthought, to illuminate and circulate air into the ballroom below. With its open framing and handsome, wooden rail, it offered guests of the Crockers a special view onto festivities below.

Pictured: Wedding in Crocker Art Museum ballroom, courtesy of Bill Quinn Photography.

More than 144 years have passed since the Sacramento Bee announced the installation of the Crocker’s collection. The oculus, with its window between two worlds, is anything but an afterthought for the 270,000 locals and tourists who visit the Museum each year.

As we envision the critical role that art will play for future generations, the oculus serves as a fitting namesake for the Crocker community’s new online destination.

We welcome your frequent visits here, as we offer you this special window into exciting happenings at the Crocker Art Museum.

Top Image: Crocker Art Museum ballroom and oculus, present day, 2016..