In 1869, Judge Edwin B. and Margaret Crocker assembled a collection of more than 700 paintings and 1,300 master drawings during their family's 1869-71 trip to Europe. Following this sojourn, the Crockers acquired numerous paintings by contemporary Californian artists, forming the core of a Californian collection that has evolved until the present day and is now considered one of the finest in the United States. The collection was installed in the couple's newly-built gallery building by 1873.
Although the Crockers frequently opened the gallery building to the public, it remained a privately held collection until Margaret Crocker presented the building and collection to the City of Sacramento and the California Museum Association (now the Crocker Art Museum Association) in 1885.
The Association continued the collecting emphases of its founders. In 1889, David Lubin, a member of the first Board of Directors of the California Museum Association, donated marble sculptures, some of which are located in the niches of the grand staircase in the Museum’s lobby. Thus began a cycle of giving which grew the original private art collection to its current size and scope. Jennie Crocker Fasset's donation of Korean ceramics in 1927 formed the basis of both an Asian
art collection and a collection of ceramics
that now represents myriad eras and cultures. Acquisitions of paintings by American artists in the 1970s enhanced this collection area, and other gifts came in the form of prints and photographs. More recent donations of African and Oceanic
art established a new collecting focus as these works, along with thousands of others acquired in the past decade, have enriched every area of the Museum's holdings.