On The Square

The Bohemian World of Xavier Martinez

By Derek Koffi-Ziter

Feb 21,2023 | 12:00 EST

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is honored to present The Collection of Bohemian Artist Xavier Martinez and His Family on Saturday, February 25, 2023, at 10:30 am PST. Spanning 110 years and five generations related to the famed Northern California artist Xavier Martinez (1869-1943), this historical collection is comprised of over 200 lots, including artworks created by and gifted to Martinez, art produced by subsequent generations, and a variety of personal possessions from the family’s multi-generational homes in Piedmont, Carmel, and Pebble Beach. This sale also includes several pairs of Chinese vases from other collectors, giving the public a unique glimpse into the history of this family and their treasured possessions. With these items, we are privileged to share a part of the Martinez family’s story and the legacy of this beloved artist.

Xavier Martinez was born in Guadalajara to a Mexican father and Spanish mother. After his mother passed away when he was 17, Martinez was adopted by Rosalia LaBastida de Coney (1844–1897). When her husband Alexander Coney was appointed Consul-General of Mexico in San Francisco in 1886, Martinez followed them there, arriving in 1893. He enrolled in the California School of Design and graduated in 1897. That same year, he became a member of the San Francisco Bohemian Club, a private club for “gentlemen who are connected professionally with Literature, Art, Music, or the Drama” and those whose love or appreciation of these objects “make them worthy companions in artistic fellowship.”

In 1897, Martinez, known to his friends as "Marty," traveled to France and attended École des Beaux Arts, Atelier Gérome, in Paris. He graduated in 1899 and returned to San Francisco in 1901. There, he frequented Coppa's Restaurant, a popular gathering spot for the Bay Area bohemian crowd, and painted the black cat frieze while connecting with old and new friends.

In 1906, Martinez relocated from San Francisco to Piedmont, which was prompted by the devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake that caused widespread destruction, claimed more than 3,000 lives, and obliterated around 28,000 buildings. According to family legend passed down to Bruce McCreary, Martinez narrowly escaped death during the quake as he had left his bed just before the bedroom wall collapsed. With San Francisco in ruins and engulfed in flames, Martinez sought refuge in Piedmont with Herman Whitaker, a fellow member of the Bohemian Club and an English-born writer, and his family. He eventually settled in Piedmont and fell in love with Elsie, Whitaker's daughter and married her despite their 20-year age difference. Martinez spent his summers in Carmel with his wife for five years, where he taught art classes at the Hotel Del Monte and was also one of the artists invited to create an art gallery there.

Micaela, affectionately known as "Kai", was born to Elsie and Xavier Martinez in 1913. By 1923, after experiencing both highs and lows in their marriage, Elsie and Xavier amicably separated. Elsie and Kai then moved in with Harriet Dean, Elsie's partner until Harriet's passing many years later. Their residence was conveniently located down the street from Martinez's studio, and the three remained deeply devoted to each other over time. Elsie held the belief that artists should not marry, echoing her own experience, as their intense work schedules made it difficult to balance family life. In 1941, Xavier fell ill and moved in with Elsie, Kai, and Harriet in Carmel. He passed away in early 1943.

Micaela "Kai" Martinez (1913-1989) followed in the artistic footsteps of her father and became an artist, sculptor, and educator. She started drawing as a child with her father and developed an interest in religious and Catholic themes, which led to her creating religious art. After studying at the California School of Arts and Crafts, Kai produced several works, including painting library murals for the Franciscans in San Francisco, creating fresco murals for the seminarians library at Mission San Luis Rey, and making Stations of the Cross paintings and sculptures for the cloisters of the Franciscan Sisters. From 1955 to 1978, she taught Liturgical Art classes at the San Francisco College for Women at Lone Mountain campus and was a lecturer at Holy Names University in Oakland. Kai married painter Ralph DuCasse in 1944, and they had two daughters. The couple eventually divorced, but Kai remained in Piedmont and continued working in her art studio until the end of her life.

Ralph DuCasse (1916-2003) was born in Kentucky and worked in Intelligence during World War II, specializing in the Japanese language. After meeting and marrying Micaela Martinez in 1944, he pursued art studies in Ohio, California, and New York and taught at various California fine art institutions, including U.C. Berkeley. In 1958, he joined the faculty at Mills College in Oakland, later becoming chairman of the Art Department. While helping to hang a student's mobile at Mills in the late 1950s, DuCasse suffered a life-changing accident, falling 40 feet through the art gallery's glass ceiling. He was severely injured and hospitalized for several months, with little hope of survival. After undergoing numerous surgeries, including on his shattered painting arm, his artistic style changed and evolved.

In 1961, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor held the first major one-man show of DuCasse's work. His artwork has been widely exhibited and is now held at institutions such as the Oakland Museum of California and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The Pebble Beach house of Jeanne DuCasse, daughter of the DuCasses, has become a museum-like repository for the creative works and colorful history of multiple generations of the Martinez family. The extensive collection, including family artworks and memorabilia, has accumulated over 110 years and fills the home's attic and basement. However, the available space has been outgrown, and the current generation has decided to share these engaging visual and historical works instead of allowing them to deteriorate in boxes unseen by those who would appreciate them. 

In addition to a variety of artworks created by Martinez, the collection includes paintings, drawings, sketches, etchings, photographs, and sculptures by several other artists, such as Micaela Martinez DuCasse, Ralph DuCasse, Chiura Obata, Josephine Wood Colby, Albert Thomas DeRome, Leo Lentelli, Arnold Genthe, Benjamen Chin, Gardiner Hale, Evelyn Otheto Stoddard Weston, Eugene Delacroix, Del F. Lederle, and more. Other items on paper consist of silhouettes, photographs of Martinez, caricatures of his bohemian friends, and his 1915 Gold Medal Panama-Pacific International Award. The collection also includes Bohemian Club memorabilia like plays, photographs, publications, and ephemera. Additionally, there are several groupings of letters, albums, papers, and ephemera that include items from Martinez, his wife Elsie, his daughter Michaela, Ralph DuCasse, Harriet Dean, his father-in-law Herman Whitaker, Franklin Roosevelt, photographer Edward Weston, artist Magda Pach, and others. The collection also features several publications, such as art exhibit catalogs and publications from the California College of Arts and Crafts. Furthermore, there is a diverse selection of books from the family library, including a signed edition of "México y Sus Alrededores" by Jack London dedicated to Martinez with a photograph, "Inedited Works of Bakst," and several publications about Carmel. Aside from heirlooms kept by family members, this unique trove of art and possessions accumulated over 110 years is testimate to the Martinez family's passion for the arts and their commitment to it's preservation. 


Derek Koffi-Ziter | Social Media and Content Manager at Bidsquare

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