Tag Archives: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

If you have ever wondered about time travel, the ability to wake up and live in an entirely different era, the exhibition CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe comes very close to letting you live surrounded by the greatest luxury in 18th century Europe. On view in the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, February 10-May 28, the paintings, decorative art pieces, furniture, period costumes, sculptures, plus your imagination may whisk you back to a luxurious era which may have seemed – to those who lived at the top tier of their societies – to promise to continue in an unchanging bubble of perfection forever. It did not, of course, as the century ended before its due date with violent revolutions in England’s American colonies (1776) and France (1789). However, it was gorgeous fun for those on top while it lasted.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice to a family of actors. He left home when young to study in Padua and received his doctorate in law at age sixteen. He was an avid reader with a gift for witty conversation and the ability to fit in to ever higher classes of society. He became an autobiographer, writing an enormous multi-volume work that is as much an autobiography of the 18th century as it is of him;  spy; world traveler; gambler; and, most certainly, every bit the seducer-womanizer extraordinaire as he is most remembered. The exhibition is less about Casanova than it is about the world through his eyes. Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of SF said, “The cosmopolitan Casanova is a fitting guide to lead our tour of the glittering art capitals of eighteenth century Europe…” Casanova lived a quarter of his life in Venice, but he also traveled extensively in an era when getting around the globe took serious efforts. Casanova traveled to the Ottoman Empire, Russia, what is now the Czech Republic, and lived in Italy, France, and England. The idea of creating an exhibition through Casanova’s eyes originated with the Kimbell Art Museum, Ft. Worth, TX. The Legion of Honor and the Fine Arts Museum of Boston collaborated in creating the exhibition which features works on loan from many great museums.

Melissa Buron, Director, Art Division for Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, and Museum Director Max Hollein discuss the approximately 200 art works of the exhibition.

The significant painters whose works are featured include Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Canaletto, Tiepolo and William Hogarth. Canaletto’s works place the viewer within Venice’s unique city-scape of light and water.  As Melissa Buron pointed out, indoors, the world was lit by candlelight. Candles were expensive; one way to show wealth was to be extravagant with candles. In addition to the imprecise glow of the candles, an air of mystery characterized Venice. The Venetians, known for  masks and masquerades, often wore their masks from October to Mardi Gras. This enhanced their ability to change or hide their identity, a useful ruse for seduction.

(Left) Franceso Guardi (Italian, 1712-1793) The Ridotto of Palazzo Dandolo at San Moise with Masked Figures Conversing ca. 1750. The ridotti were state sponsored gambling rooms, sometimes places of music and dancing. Everyone was required to wear masks which made it easier for thieves and prostitutes to mix with the elite. (Right) 18th c. Sedan chair which belonged to Alma Spreckles, founder of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe offers a look at the intimate, erotic and sensual arts which stirred passions in 18th century nobles as well as the opportunity to see the grandeur of porcelains, silver objects, fanciful and exquisite snuff boxes which were all part of the matchless luxury of palaces from St. Petersburg to London. Especially useful for those visiting the exhibition to aid time travel are three tableaux vivants — displays of life size mannequins dressed in richly embellished period costumes. The one representing Venice shows a man visiting a convent where he will have an assignation with a young woman he desires. The Parisian tableau, described by Martin Chapman, Curator-in-Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, presents an aristocratic woman sitting by a small table covered with vessels to “make her toilette,” cleanse and make up her face and hair. Nearby a male caller who faces the lady is holding hands with the lady’s maid. In London, there are elite gentlemen gambling; one has just discovered the other is cheating.

(Left) Parisian tableau. (Right) Nathaniel Hone (Irish, 1718-1781) Kitty Fisher, 1763. Kitty Fisher was London’s famous courtesan. Outrageous accounts or her life appeared in the 1750s. She was determined not to be an ordinary prostitute. She secured her fame when she posed more than twenty times for three portraits by Joshua Reynolds.

Visiting this exhibit is a rare opportunity to enter another world through its art. The last gallery has paintings and sculptures of great individuals Casanova met: Catherine the Great, George III, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire. Walking through the door on the far end of that gallery, one might feel the balance of the 18th century slip.

See famsf.org for more information.

All photographs by Jonathan Clark

Klimt & Rodin: Gold & Bronze at the Legion of Honor

In a few weeks it will be the 100th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s death. He died aged 53, in 1918, due to the deadly influenza of that year.* Gustav Klimt’s work never really went away. Posters bearing the images he created were popular throughout the 1960s, for example, and a movie about the remarkable painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, an image unmistakably Klimt’s, brought back his art for a vast audience.  San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum is the perfect place for the gorgeous Klimt exhibition which will be on view through January 28. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) (not part of this exhibition)

The Legion of Honor was built to honor the California “boys” who died in World War I. It is a site which will always be in harmony with early 20th century visions.

Gustav Klimt and his Cat (Katze), photo by Moritz Nahr

The Legion’s exhibition has paired Viennese Gustav Klimt’s work with that of Parisian Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), great master of early 20th century sculpture. At first, it might seem an unusual pairing, but it turns out that the artists met each other, in 1902. Their meeting was at an exhibition organized by the Vienna Secession movement. Rodin gave the exhibition his enthusiastic response. Klimt was a leader of the Secession which he helped establish, in 1897. He stayed with the movement to 1908. The movement’s goals were to provide exhibitions for young, unconventional artists and bring the best foreign artists to work in Vienna. It was an inclusive movement which did not limit itself to a narrowly defined style.

On left, Klimt, The Kiss (1907-1908); right, Rodin, The Kiss (1881-1882)

The Legion of Honor has one of the best, most extensive Rodin collections. Roaming through the galleries of this exhibition, seeing the paintings and sculptures close together, can give a feeling of being a time traveler suddenly able to see even familiar art works as gloriously new. In a gallery corner, there is a letter from Loie Fuller, the groundbreaking, creative dancer whose combination of light, timing, and movement opened the eyes of artists and scientists. Ms Fuller’s contacts with Rodin and Alma Spreckles, museum founder, were responsible for the beginnings of San Francisco’s great Rodin collection.

Left: Klimt: Portrait of Ria Munk III, (1917) detail; Right: Rodin: The Age of Bronze, (1877)

A relationship between the works of Rodin and Klimt can be found in the insightful portraits that are so important to each, the attraction they each felt for allegory, and especially the expressive representation of the human body. There is no self-censorship in approaching the erotic. Klimt’s Nuda Veritas (Naked Truth) shows that the naked woman’s body, not just her face, is her portrait. Klimt’s portraits involve overall designs of shapes, colors, and gold. Does the person emerge from this dense, colorful aura or is the overall patterning expressive of the personage? Or is it all design? His landscapes themselves become overall patterning whether a stand of narrow trees growing so closely together or a distant house seemingly overwhelmed by exuberant, thick growths of flowers. Rodin’s work always has drama in the power of the individual’s presence in The Age of Bronze;  the physical strain visible in the Burghers’ of Calais, or the eroticism of The Kiss. This is a Must-See exhibition. The Legion of Honor has added hours for Jan. 27 & 28, the last weekend. Experience Klimt & Rodin soon.

Klimt, The Virgin, 1913

Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, through Jan. 28, 2018. Legion’s hours: 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m., Tues – Sun; SPECIAL KLIMT & RODIN HOURS: 9;30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 & 28. Timed entry tickets needed (also for members but no charge to members). Tickets to the Legion include same day entrance for the de Young Museum and vice versa. 24/7 Call 888/901-6645 or, for members, 800/777-9996.

photo credits for pictures of Klimt’s The Kiss, Rodin’s The Kiss, Klimt’s Portrait of Ria Munk III, Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, Klimt’s The Virgin all courtesy Klimt & Rodin: A Pictorial, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Legion of Honor

  • The Department of The More Things Change (The More They Stay The Same) Klimt was born, 1862, in town just outside of Vienna. While I have read that Klimt became interested in using gold leaf from the art he observed while visiting Venice and Ravenna, it must have also been important to him that his father, who came from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. Gustav grew up in poverty as his father did not find much work, and it was an economically difficult era for immigrants.
  • Here we are in 2018 with another influenza sweeping the world. Can we know which artists we might lose from North America, Africa, Asia, anywhere?

 

 

DEGAS, IMPRESSIONISM, & HATS: SF LEGION OF HONOR

For lovers of the French Impressionist painters and those interested in French, fashion, and women’s history, there is just one more week to see the extraordinary exhibition, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum. The exhibition can be enjoyed for the exciting collection of paintings by Degas, Renoir, Morisot and others and also for the rich context of the paintings.

Edgar Degas, The Millinery Shop, 1879-1886, Art Institute of Chicago.

In late 19th century into the years just before World War I, a hat was a necessary part of one’s clothing. It clearly described one’s place in society. The more embellished with ribbons, plumes, and in some cases whole birds, the more one could be regarded as part of the idle rich. A straw boater was a necessity for men and women even if one never owned a boat. At the same time, a woman wearing a straw hat might also be a woman who wore bloomers and rode a bicycle. The craze for elaborate hats gave the millinery industry a huge economic boost at exactly the same time that the invention of the department store allowed middle class shoppers access to a vast variety of purchases. The independent millinery shops existed side by side with the department stores’ mass produced products and became more exclusive, catering to the desires of wealthier women competing for the finest, most up to date hats.

Edouard Manet, At the Milliner’s, 1881, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Although their customers might be very wealthy, the women who worked at a milliner’s shop were not. The head of the shop, called the premiere, could make a fair living, but she needed an array of workers who were skilled with a needle, knew about felting, and were desperate enough to work exceedingly long hours for next to nothing in pay. The hours could extend around the clock at the height of a “season.” Millinery workers were exposed to the dangers of mercury used in the felting process and arsenic used in taxidermy to keep from decay the birds or small animals on the hats. Twelve or fifteen hours of breathing such elements in an attic room without ventilation could cut short a milliner’s career if not also her life. This was a good setting for the spread of  tuberculosis.

The reputations of millinery workers were compromised by the idea of female workers as prostitutes. Income was slight; additional resources might be accepted and surely were offered. The milliners often wore samples of their creations or were seen working in the shops either making the hats or selling them. For the middle or upper class shopper-onlooker, the woman was a commodity much like the hat. Manet’s painting above with a woman whose shoulder is bare may represent a customer trying on hats or a milliner revealing more about herself.

Edgar Degas, The Milliners, ca.1898, Saint Louis Art Museum

The Impressionists took a strong interest in the changing society around them and found inspiration in the emerging middle classes, contemporary sporting pastimes, and real occupations. All of this is examined in the paintings in this exhibition. Additionally, one may look at the pictures of the millinery shops and see, for example, Degas’ focus on color and design. The hats can be seen as pools of color making an all over design and the women working with the hat part of the design themselves just as they are both creators and tools of the millinery industry. The exhibition includes a fascinating array of hats of the era. Don’t miss a chance to see them: the hats have stories to tell. Not least of the stories is how at least 300 million birds were killed for their plumage in the year 1911 alone. Perhaps only the Great War, which changed fashion to less extravagant styles, slowed the massacres by imposing massacres of its own.

This exhibition was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Simon Kelly, Curator & Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum also organized the 2014 exhibition Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from LeGray to Monet. Read about it at www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=486

The exhibition is open through Sunday, September 24. Tickets will be timed during the closing week. Hours: Tues.-Sunday, 9:30-5:15. see legionofhonor.org/visiting

MONET:The Early Years, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

It is an art exhibition with your favorite paintings even though you probably have never seen them; it offers a new way of looking at the work of a familiar, great artist; it is 100% a delight. All that and more is what visitors to MONET: The Early Years will find at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, from right now to May 29, 2017. As advised by Max Hollein, Director of the Fine Arts Museums San Francisco, do not wait until the last week to go to this show! Monet is such a well-loved artist; the museum is expecting crowds. Do not wait; you will want to linger once you are there and you will also want to return.

A Hut at Sainte-Adresse (1867) The first of Monet’s views of the sea from the perspective of an overlooking high cliff. It has a foreground that has mixed levels, grasses and undergrowth. The beat up looking hut is at a lower level than the vegetation on the hill, and the sea presents calm water in the sunlight with white sails at the horizon. It was important to Monet; he showed it in 1868  and then three more times through the next two decades.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) is so well known:  the man with the long beard in his garden at Giverny, the paintings of water lilies, haystacks at different times of day, the train station. It is hard to imagine him young, penniless, struggling to earn recognition as well as to pay his rent and buy food. The works in the exhibition come from 1858 , his first exhibited work, to 1872. This is the Monet whose paintings inhabit the exhibition. The paintings enliven each gallery with the young master’s color and light. They also represent surprising genres including still lifes, portraits, and genre paintings in addition to the landscapes with which he will be identified in the future. He did the earliest painting in the show when he was 18; in his 20s he is already brilliant in his presentation of deep forests, blustery seascapes, people who become color in motion on the beach or by a pool.

La Grenouillier (1869) In this summer, Renoir literally sustained Monet and Camille  bringing them bread. The two painters spent time together at this atmospheric swimming spot with cafe as well as a walkway and pool. Renoir painted three pictures and Monet made this and aother. Painting the light and colors reflected in the water seems to have fascinated Monet. He shows people moving in different directions, creating new dimensions. The distant trees in pale yellow-green contrast with the wavy, cool, blue black water.

He traveled to the Netherlands and to London in search not only of new subjects but also new buyers. He was able to sell work especially in the Netherlands. The visitor to the exhibition will find examples of his brilliant painting which do not look entirely like the later, more familiar Monet. He traveled with his lover, Camille Doncieux, who became the mother of his child and, later, his wife. There are touching, intimate portraits of both Camille and the infant, Jean. These paintings reveal characteristics of Camille and also the tenderness of the artist.

The Cradle (1867) Camille and Monet’s son, born during a time of poverty and struggle is presented here with a joyful intimacy. The figure is Julie Vellay, Pissarro’s future wife.

The Red Kerchief (ca. 1869) is a touching glimpse of Camille glancing in the artist’s window. Monet kept this painting with him his whole life. Camille passed away in 1879.

The Magpie (1869) shows a countryside in deep snow. The pale branches of the trees are lined with snow. There is a fence, and a magpie sits on the gate. To look at this painting is to learn that snow is not only white, in fact, depending on the light cast on it, it is violet, pink and gray in and out of shadow. There are no humans in this scene, but the hedge, trees, and bird are full of life in the quiet landscape. Its light is glorious, making a scene that should be cold offer depth, balance, harmony.

In 1871, Monet and his family fled Paris to escape the Franco-Prussian War. He returned in 1872 to settle in Argenteuil about 12 miles out of Paris. There he painted the towpath along the river at different times of day, an anticipation of magnificent series to come. By this time, he had achieved financial peace of mind and also found recognition amongst his peers. He exhibited with Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Pissarro, and Sisley, in 1874, in the first Impressionist Exhibition and in the second Impressionist Exhibition, 1876. His mastery of his own style was apparent. This is a great exhibition.

The Pont Neuf in Paris, an Impression (1872) “An impression” meant both a quick look and the result of the artist’s quick look. The small figures with umbrellas wending their way across a bridge recall the Japanese art which excited Parisian artists beginning in the 1850s. The Pont Neuf’s urban setting offers  different visions according to the changing light. The slick street, the puff of smoke from a boat, the darker traffic to the side; the color reflects the movement of objects and people creating their own patterns in a cloudy world.

Monet: The Early Years was organized by the Kimbell Art Museum in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. George T.M. Shackelford, the Kimbell’s Deputy Director, is the curator of the exhibition. Esther Bell is the FAMSF Curator in Charge, European Paintings. For more information, see legionofhonor.org/monet   Museum hours: Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m.

photos: All photos by Jonathan Clark, Mountain View, CA.

HOUGHTON HALL: Portrait of an English Country House

HHallExteriorSybilSassoonSargent

gibbs_-_houghton_hall_-_interior_1-1 ChumleyVisiting the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum is always visiting a very special place. Almost a world of its own, the museum sits at a distant end of The City on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.The site is so breathtaking that one’s attention could be turned away from the beautiful building. It was built to echo the Legion of Honor in Paris and to honor the Californian “boys” who had died in World War I. As it is just two days away from Veterans’ Day, it is worth remembering to remember. Now, until January 18, 2015, the Legion hosts an exhibition which re-creates another special place within the museum. In 1728, Houghton Hall was called “the completest, beautifulest” of all country houses. It is gigantic, full of treasures and history. It was the home of Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime MInister and a voracious collector. When he died, in 1755, he left an enormous debt. His family sold Robert Walpole’s collection of Old Master paintings to Catherine of Russia, helping to make her Great and their debts less. In an odd quirk of history, the family has been able to hold on to the property because no one would buy the immense house and its 17,000 acres. Lucky for us. The property passed to Horace Walpole and then to a grandson of Sir Robert’s daughter. A fortuitous marriage to the Chomondeley family of Cheshire further secured both families’ properties. David Cholmondeley, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chumly”) and Lord Great Chamberlain of England is now in charge of both. His grandfather married the exquisite Sybil Sassoon, a descendant of the Rothschild family who brought her personal elegance, devotion to Houghton Hall, and more financial stability. Speaking to a group of journalists, David Chomondeley reminisced of happy times with his grandmother. She introduced him to treasures and special places in Houghton Hall, including the grand staircase which she restored. Among many fine things in the exhibition are paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Andrea del Sarto, Artemesia Gentileschi, and Hogarth. Visitors will be inside the library from which Robert Walpole ran England. This was the first house in England to use mahogany instead of oak. While building it, Robert Walpole took import duties off of mahogany; he put them back when the Hall was finished. There are also Sevres china rarities collected by George Chomondeley, the current Marquess’s grandfather, grand silver, statues. One gallery has portraits of Sybil by John Singer Sargent. The beautiful lady is now overseeing the visits of so many new guests to her San Francisco home. When you visit, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy an English tea being served in the Museum’s lovely cafe. Pictures, courtesy FAMSF: Houghton Hall exterior; Sybil Sassoon, Marchioness of Chomondeley, by Sargent; interior of Houghton Hall; Hogarth painting of Chomondeley collection.