Norton Bush

Norton Bush was born in Rochester, New York in 1834 and as a teenager studied with Hudson River School landscape painters known for their detailed and dramatic paintings of awe inspiring wilderness scenes. He began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design at the age of seventeen (Questroyal). Frederick Church, a Hudson River School painter who became famous for his exotic paintings of South America, encouraged Bush to travel and paint tropical scenes.

Bush sailed to San Francisco in 1853 around Cape Horn and on land through the Isthmus of Panama and jungles of Nicaragua. A year later he exhibited his tropical landscape paintings in San Francisco. He is known for being the first professional landscape painter in San Francisco (Spanierman), first painting on a part-time basis until he established a studio in the Mercantile Library Building in the late 1860s and began devoting all his time to art. He was also one of the first photographers to work in San Francisco. He gained a national reputation for his lush and evocative scenes painted in a romantic realist style which became very popular with early travelers who reminisced on their passage to California. Bush also painted scenes of New England, went on several sketching trips throughout Northern California where he painted the Sierras and Lake Tahoe, and in his later years he painted marine subjects. None of his later subject matter gained the popularity of his tropical landscapes which became his recognized specialty. Bush found patrons in Banker William Ralston who had businesses in Central America and among railroad magnates such as Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Henry Meiggs who left San Francisco to construct railways over difficult terrain in South America.

Bush was a member of the Bohemian Club and from 1878 to 1880 became the Director of the San Francisco Art Association. In the late 1870s when the California’s art market collapsed, Bush moved to Sacramento where he set up a studio, taught art and became the superintendent of the art department at the California State Fair for several years. In 1894 at the age of 60 he had a fatal heart attack that has been attributed to overwork when he took on the responsibility for the California galleries at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Society of California Pioneers collection has an early Bush painting from 1857 of the Sacramento steamship the Governor Dana and three tropical landscapes.


Arader Galleries. San Francisco.

AskArt – Art  Appraisals, Art Value. Action Prices, Art Database.

Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum.

Questroyal Fine Art. LLC. New York  (

Spanierman Gallery, LLC. New York. (,-Norton/bio/thumbs/biography)

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