ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

It’s International Museum Day and admission is FREE Friday, May 16, at the de Young and Legion of Honor

"Girl With a Pearl Earring," Johannes Vermeer, 1665, 44.5 x 39 cm.

“Girl With a Pearl Earring,” Johannes Vermeer, 1665, 44.5 x 39 cm. The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is the first North American venue for the exhibit “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis.”

A fabulous Friday freebie—in celebration of International Museum Day, visitors to the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor can enjoy free general admission all day on Friday, May 17, 2013.   Doors open at 9:30 a.m.  Tickets to see Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis and Rembrandt’s Century will be only $15 instead of $25.  Both of these shows close on Sunday June 2, so there are just three viewing weekends remaining.

The de Young will also be open 9:30 am-5:15 pm on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.  Regular admissions fees do apply.

International Museum Day:  Every year since 1977, International Museum Day is held worldwide sometime around May 18. In 2012, 32,000 museums from 129 countries on five continents participated in the event.

Details:  The de Young Museum is located at Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally! The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announces a New Director, Colin Bailey, from the Frick Collection

Colin Bailey, deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in New York, is the new director of the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco.  He starts on June 1, 2013.

Colin Bailey, deputy director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in New York, is the new director of the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. He starts on June 1, 2013.

After much anticipation, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF)  named its new director today, filling the position left vacant since the death of John Buchanan 15 months ago.  Colin Bailey, currently associate director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in Manhattan and a noted curator and award-winning author will step into the position on June 1, 2013.  Bailey was selected after an exhaustive year-long international search by a 13-member selection committee of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees.  The announcement was made today at 1 p.m. at the de Young Museum at a highly attended press conference officiated by FAMSF president and board chair Diane B. Wilsey (Dede) with guest speaker San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.  At today’s press conference it was made clear that Bailey will initiate a new mandate “moving beyond the museums’ reputation as a home for blockbuster exhibitions to focus more on its permanent collections.”

Diane B. Wilsey said of Bailey, who did not attend today’s press conference, “we all agree that Colin has the qualities that will elevate the museums to the next level.”  She added that Bailey will keep “the focus on curatorial excellence, art historical relevance, and continued service to our community.”   She also added that John Buchanan had been a lot of “fun to work with” and that that Colin was also “fun.”   

Wilsey’s camaraderie with the late Buchanan was legendary and the two, whom ARThound dubbed “the dynamic duo” were responsible for the coup that brought the celebrated French Impressionism shows to San Francisco in 2010. (Read about that here.)   

Mayor Ed Lee spoke enthusiastically of Bailey’s selection, acknowledging the difficulty of the search process and thanking the Board of Trustees.  In a video shown at the press conference, (watch it below), Bailey said the appointment is “a dream come true,” and his purpose in The City will be “to conserve, to show, to educate.”

Normally, ARThound does not repost news from other websites or journalists but Janos Gereben, emailed me his article for the The Examiner (sfexaminer.com) about today’s appointment of Bailey and his reporting on his salary is excellent.  Janos has written a series of articles leading up to today’s appointment, which can be found at www.sfexaminer.com.  He shared with me that he got Bailey’s earnings at the Frick using old-school reportage—he looked up his tax records which are publicly accessible.  Here then quoting Janos…

FAMSF president and board chair Diane B. Wilsey announcing the appointment of Colin Bailey as the new FAMSF director.  Wilsey has run the FAMSF since the death of John Buchanan 15 months ago.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

FAMSF president and board chair Diane B. Wilsey announcing the appointment of Colin Bailey as the new FAMSF director. Wilsey has run the FAMSF since the death of John Buchanan 15 months ago. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“From a small but world-renowned private institution, Bailey is moving to a San Francisco city government organization, which is responsible for the de Young and California Legion of Honor museums.  He will manage 550 employees, some on The City’s payroll, most paid by the nonprofit Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM).  

Frick operates on a $22 million budget, has 330,000 visitors a year, against FAMSF’s 1.6 million visitors and $54 million operating budget.

Compensation, at least on paper, doesn’t reflect those differences in size: Bailey’s salary at the Frick was $235,000 in FY 2011, according to the latest IRS report available. 

His position here is “Director of Museums, City and County of San Francisco Classification 0963, Department Head III,” which has a base salary under $100,000; he is expected to receive additional funding and perks from private sources and COFAM.” 

Today’s press conference was scheduled for noon but began close to 1 p.m. due to late running Board of Trustees meeting, where Bailey was officially approved.  The scuttlebutt among the press, impatient for the show to get on, ran the gamut from speculation about the delay in announcing a new director to criticism of Wilsey’s leadership during the recent period of curator dismissals and staff resignations to the organization’s press relations team which has recently been in flux.  Several FAMSF curators were in attendance and they too seemed to eagerly await the announcement, one acknowledging that things had been “unsettled.”  

At the press conference, Wilsey explained that the board meeting was delayed until today, to give Bailey “the courtesy of talking his own [Frick] board, which he did yesterday.”  This, she said, enabled Bailey “to give proper notice.”   He will start at FAMSF on June 1, 2013.  She did not explain why the trustees’ meeting itself ran late. 

Colin Bailey, the new Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in an introductory video screened at today’s press conference

More about Colin Bailey:  Born in London, Bailey earned his doctorate in art history at Oxford University. He specializes in 18th- and 19th-century French art, was named Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1994 for his contribution to French culture and was promoted to Officier in 2010. He also held a residency under Henri Loyrette, the former president and director of the Louvre in Paris. He has been chief curator of the Frick since 2000, when he narrowly lost the competition for the museum’s directorship. Previously, he worked at the Getty Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimbell Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada, where he was deputy director and chief curator. He is returning to California 30 years after a fellowship at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.

He has organized more than two dozen exhibitions, including the recent Renoir, Impressionism and Full-Length Painting at the Frick, many of which have represented new scholarship and have been praised for providing keen insights into individual artists. Other exhibitions include Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery; Renoir’s Landscapes, 1865-1883; and Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Bailey’s many publications include The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David; Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection; and Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, the book that won the Mitchell Prize.

Diane B. Wilsey and Colin B. Bailey, the new director of FAMSF, who will start June 1, 2013.  Photo: Bill Zemanek

Diane B. Wilsey and Colin B. Bailey, the new director of FAMSF, who will start June 1, 2013. Photo: Bill Zemanek

Colin Bailey and his partner will be spending the Easter holiday here in the Bay Area, having Easter dinner with Wilsey at her home and finalizing the signing on a spacious apartment that the couple will share with their dog.  Details on the dog to follow…

ARThound’s most recent coverage of the Frick Collection— ARThound in New York: A Dresden goldsmith and court jeweler works his magic and catalogues it in small booklets—“Gold, Jasper and Carnelian” at The Frick Collection through August 19, 2012

March 27, 2013 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Paris, je t’aime!—the Legion closes out 2012 with “Royal Treasures from the Louvre,” a show that re-introduces the glory days of the French court

One of the most novel items on display in “Royal Treasures from the Louvre…” is an ornate solid gold coffee grinder fabricated in 1756-57 by goldsmith Jean Ducrollay for Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s chief mistress.  Madame de Pompadour, who gave intimate dinners hosted by the king, owned several examples of gold tableware but this is the only surviving piece.  It is made of three colors of gold and modeled with delicate sprays of coffee branches and coffee berries.  Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Daniel Arnaudet

One of the most novel items on display in “Royal Treasures from the Louvre…” is a solid gold coffee grinder fabricated in 1756-57 by goldsmith Jean Ducrollay for Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s chief mistress. Made of three colors of gold and modeled with delicate sprays of coffee branches and coffee berries, this is the only surviving piece of several items of gold tableware Pompadour owned. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Daniel Arnaudet

The Louvre is at top of almost everyone’s Paris-to-do list, but once there, it can be overwhelming with its 35,000 paintings, sculptures, furnishings and objects.  A must-see exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette, has brought some of the Louvre’s most exquisite treasures, those of the French monarchy from the time of Louis XIV (1638-1715) until the Revolution of 1789, right to our doorstep.  As Louis XIV was building his spectacular palace at Versailles, he called on his court workshops at the Gobelins Manufactory to furnish his new building.  As many as 800 artisans worked to create mosaic tabletops, sumptuous wool and silk tapestries and carpets, silver goods, furniture and other luxury goods, representing France’s finest workmanship.  A sampling of these spectacular objects’d art and furnishings have been lent to the Legion of Honor while the Louvre renovates its 18th century galleries in preparation for their 2013 re-opening.    

On display are Louis XIV’s personal collection of hard-stone vases, the “Gemmes de la Couronne,” which represent the pinnacle of French royal collecting, one of Louvre’s greatest treasures.  They have only left France once before—in 2004, when they were exhibited at the Kremlin.  Also included are several Gobelins masterworks including a mosaic tabletop of semiprecious stones, several large and detailed tapestries, and a pair of painted doors from Queen Marie-Thérèse’s (1638-83) bedroom.  Other precious items include a rare complete “boite à portrait” (box portrait) of Louis XIV surrounded by large diamonds; personal items made for Louis XV and his mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry; Sèvres porcelain pieces gifted to foreign rulers; royal silver; and precious personal objects collected by Queen Marie-Antoinette that she kept in her private apartments at Versailles.  Due to their status, many of these objects have never left France before and are on display at the Legion, the only U.S. venue, through March 17, 2013.    

Adding icing to the cake, the Louvre and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco signed a major accord on November 15, 2012, which puts the two museums in a partnership that paves the way for a series of exhibitions, collaborations on publications, art conservation projects, and public education programs.  The accord is the culmination of a series of discussions and exchanges that began two years ago when John Buchanan, the late director of the FAMSF and Diane Wilsey, president, FAMSF Board of Trustees, went to Paris and met with Henri Loyrette, director of the Musée du Louvre and put together a plan to bring Royal Treasures from the Louvre to San Francisco.  Another major art exhibition from the Louvre is expected to open in San Francisco by 2017 and, likewise, works of art from FAMSF will be exhibited at the Louvre.

Henri Loyrette, director of the Musée du Louvre, looks on as Diane B. Wilsey, president of the Board of Trustees of FAMSF, signs an accord on November 15, 2012, which paves the way for more collaboration between the two museums and a series of exhibitions bringing artworks from Louvre to San Francisco and works from FAMSF to Paris for exhibition.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Henri Loyrette, director of the Musée du Louvre, looks on as Diane B. Wilsey, president of the Board of Trustees of FAMSF, signs an accord on November 15, 2012, which paves the way for more collaboration between the two museums and a series of exhibitions bringing artworks from Louvre to San Francisco and works from FAMSF to Paris for exhibition. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Exhibition Overview:   Allow about two hours to fully take in this exhibition which includes roughly 90 objects. ( Pairs of items—plates, lamps, painted doors, etc.,are counted as a single item.)  The exhibition is divided into eight major sections which conveniently correspond to chapters in the exhibition catalogue —the Gobelins Manufactory; the French Crown Collection of Hardstones (“Gemmes de la Couronne”); Royal Gifts of Gold and Diamonds; Royal Silversmiths’ works; Sèvres Porcelain Diplomatic Gifts; the Marchand-Merciers as Purveyors of Luxury Goods; Louis XVI as Patron of the Arts; and the Private Collection of Marie Antoinette.    

Exhibition Highlights:

Royal Patronage:  The story of French royal patronage and collecting begins in 1662 with Louis XIV’s purchase of the Gobelins Manufactory (or factory) which had been run by the Gobelins, a family of prestigious dyer-maker and tapestry weavers, since the 15th century.  With Gobelins’ entire production at his disposal, the king went to town.  The  firm was renamed Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne (Royal Factory of Furniture to the Crown) and it was transformed into a luxury goods factory charged with supplying tapestries, carpets, hardstone tables, cabinets  furniture, and silver exclusively for Louis XIV’s royal residences and for ambassadorial gifts.  Under the direction of artist Charles Le Brun from 1663 until his death in 1690, Gobelins came to epitomize the standard of excellence the rest of the world sought to match.   Louis XIV’s war campaigns in the late 1680′s nearly bankrupted the country and put the brakes on his lavish commissions from Gobelins.  Most of the exquisite silver commissioned that had been commissioned for Versailles was melted down and the factory, which in its heyday had employed up to 800 skilled artisans, returned to producing only tapestries.  

This tapestry with its rare arched top depicts Lois XIV as Apollo and was woven for his private quarters at Trianon.  “Apollo,” from the series “Tenture des Mois Arabesques,” ca. 1697 Gobelins Manufactory. After Noël Coypel (French, Paris 1628–1707 Paris), painter.  Workshop of Jean de la Croix (French, 1662–1712), Wool and silk, 110 1/4 x 87 in. (280 x 221 cm). Musée du Louvre.  Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

This tapestry with its rare arched top depicts Louis XIV as Apollo and was woven for his private quarters at Trianon. “Apollo,” from the series “Tenture des Mois Arabesques,” ca. 1697, Gobelins Manufactory. After Noël Coypel (French, Paris 1628–1707 Paris), painter. Workshop of Jean de la Croix (French, 1662–1712), Wool and silk, 110 1/4 x 87 in. (280 x 221 cm). Musée du Louvre. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

Tapestries: The silk and wool tapestries woven at the Gobelins were the finest of any produced in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Preparatory cartoons were ordered from leading painters such as Charles Le Brun, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Charles Coypel, and François Boucher.  During the 72 year reign of Louis XIV (1661-1733), which was one of the longest in history,  tapestries were created with intricate motifs alluding to great moments in French history and celebrating the king, whereas 18th century subjects were lighter and more frivolous.  Skilled weavers were paid according to the difficulty of the work and those entrusted with heads and flesh tones received the highest wages.  

The exhibition includes two Gobelins tapestries.  One has a rare arched top and was created for a curved niche in Louis XIVs bedchamber at Trianon, his private retreat at Versailles.  This tapestry depicts Louis XIV as Apollo sporting a bow for hunting, a favorite activity of Louis XIV.  Its border is filled with flowers and fruits alluding to the king’s bounty.  According to Marc Bascou, Director of Département des Objets d’art at the Musée du Louvre, over time, the ravages of light destroyed many of the subtle effects in most tapestries from this period, but these specimens have survived—not only do they have significant subject matter but they have exquisite color and reflect sophisticated tonal effects achieved through a wide range of special dyes which were developed during that period.

Another exquisite “don’t miss” late 17th century tapestry is the exceptionally large and vividly colorful one that opens the exhibition—a “chancellerie” from the Beauvais Manufactory.  This factory was second in importance to the Gobelins workshops and was established by Louis XVI’s finance minister and specialized in low-warp weaving. Chancelleries were given by the king to his chief justices or chancellors.  Woven in silks and wools, this stunning example has a central coat of arms of France, and the symbols—crossed maces and the casket containing the royal seals—and cypher of Chancellor Louis Boucherat (who served under Louis XIV) in the mid-section of its lower border.  The border was designed by the esteemed French painter Jean Lemoyne.  Just in front of this tapestry is a remarkable bronze statue of Louis XIV, captured dramatically on his rearing horse.  It has life-like detail throughout, right down to the nails on the horse’s shoes, and is one of the few statues of Louis XIV to survive the Revolution. 

If you haven’t yet seen the fall edition of Fine Arts, FAMSF’s quarterly magazine, the cover is a close-up of a brilliantly colored  late 17th century mosaic tabletop in marble and semi-precious stones fabricated by Gobelins.  This large tabletop features emblems of Louis XIV, including intricate lapis lazuli lyres of Apollo set at each of its four corners.   Apollo was both the sun god and god of the classical world and Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, associated himself with the cult of Apollo.  The lyres are set on lapis globes filled with fleurs-de-lis-and the entire composition is interspersed with garlands of flowers, fruits and images of exotic parrots so finely rendered, you might mistake it for a painting. The technique of hardstone mosaic was developed in 16th century Florence; by the 18th century, it had been refined to the point that convincing imitations of oil paintings could be created.  The Italian-trained artisans at Gobelins were counted among the world’s finest and this tabletop is the finest example of their work in large-scale.   

The Gemmes de la Couronne (The French Crown Collection of Hardstones):  It took roughly 25 years but Louis XIV accumulated the finest precious and semiprecious hardstone vases in Europe for his own personal collection— a mix of superb antique, Byzantine, medieval and oriental carved hardstones with exquisite sixteenth and seventeenth century gold, enamel and gemstone mounts from Milan, Prague and Germany.  These were the most esteemed objects in the royal collection, cherished for their rarity and as exquisite mineral specimens.  A palace inventory of 1713 lists 823 objects in this category, broken down into 446 works in rock crystal and 377 works in different semiprecious colored stones.  

This agate ewer was a prize possession of King Louis XV and is part of the French Crown Collection of Hardstones.  Agate with enameled gold mounts, ca. 1650, Paris, France, 10 7/16 x 4 15/16 x 3 9/16 inches, Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d’Art, MR 23, photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Jean-Gilles Berizzi.

This agate ewer was a prize possession of King Louis XV and is part of the French Crown Collection of Hardstones. Agate with enameled gold mounts, ca. 1650, Paris, France, 10 7/16 x 4 15/16 x 3 9/16 inches, Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d’Art, MR 23, photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Jean-Gilles Berizzi.

Among all his possessions, Louis XIV especially treasured an agate ewer, mounted as a pitcher in gold and embellished with elements from classical mythology.  This graceful study in form and color was chosen as the exhibition poster.  Its ornate handle is an enameled female whose wings have spouted into vegetation and join with a goat’s head which forms the rear rim.  The entire underside of the lip is a colorful enamel satyr’s mask.   The pitcher was not made to be used but to be displayed.  When the Palace of Versailles was redesigned in the 1680’s, Louis XIV had his private apartments outfitted with special tables and mirrors to showcase these stunning objects. Eighteen hardstone and rock crystal pieces are on display at the Legion, including several shell-shaped hardstone cups, some of which are translucent and all of which are encrusted with jaw-dropping mounts of enameled gold and stones. 

Royal Gifts, “Présents du Roi”: The French kings frequently commissioned opulent luxury items as gifts for foreign kings and dignitaries, known as “présents du roi.”  Louis XIV understood the timeless allure of diamonds and was well known for giving miniature enamel portraits of himself set in diamonds to people he wanted to impress.  These backsides of these miniatures were elaborately enameled and embellished with the king’s crowned double-L cypher.  These miniatures were called “boîtes à portraits” (portrait boxes) because they presented in exquisite protective silk-lined leather boxes.  While very few of these jewel-encrusted portraits survived intact because the value of the diamonds led to re-purposing, one, in exceptional condition, with its original large diamonds is at the Legion.

When Louis XIV’s great grandson, Louis XV, came to power (reined 1715-1774), the custom of giving king’s portraits continued, but instead of being presented in ornate boxes, they became the boxes.  Miniature portraits were mounted on snuffboxes, many of which were solid gold, reflecting the wealth and power of the donor.  The Louvre has the finest collection of snuffboxes in the world and eight are in this exhibition.  Many of these are decorated with four colors of gold—rose, green, white and yellow—and hand-chased or set brilliantly with diamonds and colored enamels or jewels.

Louvre 5

Presentation miniature of Louis XIV, ca 1670, in a diamond-set frame. Workshop of Pierre and Laurent Le Tessier de Montarsy, goldsmiths; Jean Petitot I, enameler. Miniature: painted enamel. Mount: rose-cut and table-cut diamonds set in silver and enameled gold. 2 13/16 x 1 13/16 inches. Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d’Art, Gift of the Société des Amis, 2009, OA 12280. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / Jean-Gilles Berizzi.

The Marchands-Merciers, Luxuries: During the 18th century, under Louis XV, purveyors of luxury goods, “marchands-merciers,” stepped up to replace the system of state patronage that Louis XIV had established with his purchase of Gobelins in the 17th century.  Louis XV furnished his personal apartments and those of his mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry, with the finest decorative pieces of the Rococo era, supplied by the marchands-merciers.  The marchands-merciers both commissioned works from artisan workshops and acted as middle men, stepping in as designers, interior decorators, jewelers and dealers. 

A stand-out from this period is a tea table with Sèvres porcelain plaques made in 1774 for Madame du Barry (1743-1793), Louis XV’s mistress who succeeded Madame Pompadour.  The table’s commission was handled by Simon-Philippe Poirier, who specialized in Sèvres porcelain and became one of Madame Pompadour’s preferred dealers.  The king spent lavishly on du Barry and reportedly told the Duke of Richelieu that she was the only woman in France who could make him forget he was 60.  She, in turn, was said to have made a profession out of acquiring whatever she fancied, building up a vast collection of the rarest, most curious and costly objects.  This table with a tilting top is one of the most elaborate of its type, consisting of seven porcelain plaques with bucolic themes and a base fabricated by the cabinetmaker Martin Carlin of rare purple wood veneers on mahogany with gilt bronze mounts.  While each of these Sèvres plaques is a work of art, the central plaque by Charles-Nicholas Dodin, the leading artist at Sèvres, is an exotic scene from the 1737 work “Le concert du grand Sultan” by painter Carle van Loo.  The catalogue states that this scene must have been copied from an engraving rather than the original painting because the composition is reversed. (catalogue p. 111)  

Madame du Barry had an insatiable taste for Sèvres porcelain.  She had several full sets of dinnerware, which could consist of up to several hundred pieces each made for her. Many of these featured an ornate center design formed from her initials “DB.”  She was known to reject completed sets, complaining that design elements that captured her fancy at the time of their commission were not what she really wanted.

Detail of tea table with Sèvres porcelain plaques (1774), made for Madame du Barry (1743–1793) Martin Carlin, cabinetmaker; Charles-Nicolas Dodin painter.  Oak, mahogany, and purple wood veneer; gilt bronze mounts; soft-paste porcelain, 32 5/16 x 31 1/2 inches. Musée du Louvre. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY /Eric Lessing.

Detail of tea table with Sèvres porcelain plaques (1774), made for Madame du Barry (1743–1793)
Martin Carlin, cabinetmaker; Charles-Nicolas Dodin painter. Oak, mahogany, and purple wood veneer; gilt bronze mounts; soft-paste porcelain, 32 5/16 x 31 1/2 inches. Musée du Louvre. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY /Eric Lessing.

Madame Pompadour’s gold coffee grinder:  Madame Pompadour (1721-1764), Louis VX’s earlier mistress, also dined on the finest Sèvres porcelain and had a taste for luxury.  Her gold coffee grinder, embellished with delicate spays of coffee berries and leaves, is the exhibition’s most delightful object.

The king met Pompadour at a ball in 1745 when she was 23 and he was 35. She came dressed as a coquettish shepherdess and he came as a tree and was smitten. She was masterful at seduction and aimed to secure her place, acquiring a number of lodges and châteaux chateau, all appointed with everyday objects made in precious materials, so that the King and she could play at ordinary life while living in outlandish luxury.

The Private Collection of Marie Antoinette:   The mystique of Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), who became Queen of France when Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1774, is the subject of extensive lore.  A small gallery is devoted entirely to the queen’s personal collection of precious objects for her private apartments at Versailles.  She had a team of stylists, architects, and decorators at her beckon call who worked to furnish these dwellings in an elegant Neoclassical style that worked in concert with her prized possessions.  On display are 16 objects reflecting the richness and refinement of her taste—furniture, porcelain and gilt boxes, bowls, cups.  There are also several hardstone vases of which she was particularly fond, some of which she took from Louis XIV’s priceless collection of hardstones. 

Particularly impressive is her large jewel coffer (1786-1787), set with thick decorative panels of moss agate with a base of marble and jasper and ornate gold lion mounts.  These elaborately crafted ornate mounts are seen in many of her objects and were intended to act as a stylistic counterpoint to the stone’s plain surface and to enhance its natural beauty.  The coffer’s front panel of agate stands out as a marvel of natural abstraction with spheres resembling planets floating in a vast cosmos, a piece that one can literally lose all sense of time gazing at.

Marie Antoinette’s Jewel coffer (1786–1787) set with decorative panels of moss agate and designed by French goldsmiths Charles Ouizille (ca. 1744–1830) and Pierre-François Drais (ca. 1726–1788). Lid is missing.  Moss agate, jasper, marble and gold, 9 1/4 x 11 x 8 7/8 inches.  Musée du Louvre. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Marie Antoinette’s Jewel coffer (1786–1787) set with decorative panels of moss agate and designed by French goldsmiths Charles Ouizille (ca. 1744–1830) and Pierre-François Drais (ca. 1726–1788). Lid is missing. Moss agate, jasper, marble and gold, 9 1/4 x 11 x 8 7/8 inches. Musée du Louvre. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Also on display is a 19-inch-high jasper perfume burner (1774-1775) prized for its naturalistic garlands of vine leaves.  Mounted by the famous bronzier (bonze worker) Pierre Gouthière, one of the most celebrated artists of his day, this object actually belongs to the Wallace Collection, London.  It is one of three masterpieces by Gouthière in the exhibition, all three acquired by French royals at the famous 1792 auction of the duc d’Amont’s private collection.

In the early days of the Revolution, the queen’s precious objects were consigned to Dominque Daguerre, a prominent marchand-mercier who had assisted her with a large number of commissions and purchases.  After her execution in 1793, the objects eventually went to the Commission of Arts and many were placed in the Louvre.

While Louis XVI’s art collecting stood in the shadow of his wife’s reputation for extravagance, he was a great patron of the arts who initiated a set of reforms in 1774-1792 that would pave the way for the Louvre.  In 1774, he installed his most valuable possessions—his hardstone vases, renamed “Gemmes de la Couronne,” and the Crown jewels—in the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (today’s place de la Concorde) where they were open to the public on certain days.  He also began purchasing and commissioning objects with an eye to establishing a great museum in the galleries of the royal palace of the Louvre.  Unfortunately, before his project could be realized, his regime collapsed, bankrupted by years of bad harvests, drawn-out wars, resistance to reform and the debt incurred by Louis XIV’s outlandish spending on Versailles.  Public opinion turned against the King and his royals and unrest eventually led to revolution and Louis XVI was executed in January of 1793.  Eight months later, the Louvre, now designated as a collection for the people of France, opened to the public. 

The Legion has gone all out with its lavish installation of Royal Treasures from the Louvre, which includes an informative optional audio-tour narrated by FAMSF’s Martin Chapman and Maria Santiago.  No matter what you believe your particular taste is, prepare to be completely mesmerized by these priceless objects and pulled into another era, and, of course, you’ll have done your homework in preparation for a trip to Paris to visit the Louvre and its additional 34,900 artworks.

Martin Chapman (left), Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Marc Bascou (right), Director of Département des Objets d'art at the Musée du Louvre, discuss a rare 17th century marble and pietre dure (hardstones) tabletop with emblems of Louis XIV, exotic parrots and ornate garlands of fruits and flowers. Chapman and Bascou conducted the November 15, 2012 media preview for “Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette.”  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Martin Chapman (left), Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and Marc Bascou (right), Director of Département des Objets d’art at the Musée du Louvre, discuss a rare 17th century marble and pietre dure (hardstones) tabletop with emblems of Louis XIV, exotic parrots and ornate garlands of fruits and flowers. Chapman and Bascou conducted the November 15, 2012 media preview for “Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Catalogue: At $29.99 the catalogue,  Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette, (hardcover, 176 pages) includes large and high-quality color photos of all of the objects in the exhibition and insightful essays by Marc Bascou, Director of the Musée du Louvre’s Département des Objets d’Art (currently in charge of renovating the Louvre’s 18th century galleries) and that department’s chief curator, Michèle Bibenet, as well as Martin Chapman, FAMSF’s Curator in Charge of Decorative Arts and Sculpture.  Chapman co-curated the Legion’s Cartier and America show in 2010, as well as Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique in 2009.  Anything he writes on the decorative arts is a must have.  Published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre, Paris and available for purchase through the museum shop or online.

Details: Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie Antoinette  closes Match 17, 2013.  The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. Museum hours:  Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; closed on Monday.  Tickets: $20; seniors 65+ $17; students with current ID $16; youth 13-17 $10; children 12 and under and members free.  Purchase tickets in advance online here.  More info: http://visit.legionofhonor.org.

Related Lectures and Events: 

Special Lecture: from Versailles to rodeo Drive: French Luxe Conquers the World, Dr. Anne Prah-Perochon, art historian and contributor to the journal France-Amérique.  Sunday January 13, 2013, 2 p.m., Florence Gould Theatre, free after museum general admission.

Docent Lectures:  Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 1 p.m. with Kay Payne; Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 1 p.m. with Jim Kohn; Sunday 27, 2013 at 2:15 p.m. with Kay Payne—all in Florence Gould Theatre.  Free after museum general admission.  Before planning any museum visit around a scheduled lecture, check here to make sure the schedule has not changed.

Related Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum:  After you’ve finished at the Legion, the Metropolitan Museum has “Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens,” through January 27, 2013, showcasing the exquisite and innovative work of the cabinetmaking firm of Abraham Roentgen and his son David whose ingenious desks with their pop-out drawers, pivoting parts, hidden niches and mirrors took 19th century Europe by storm including Marie Antoinette.

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No muse! “Man Ray / Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism” reframes Lee Miller and her relationship with Man Ray, closing this Sunday, October 14, at the Legion of Honor

A commanding self portrait. Lee Miller (1907–1977), Self Portrait, c.1930, Gelatin silver print, 3 ½ x 2 1/8 in. (9.0 x 5.2 cm), Lee Miller Archives, Sussex, England, Photograph by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives, England 2011.

It took a son’s devotion to a mother he really never really knew very well in life to bring surrealist artist and photographer Lee Miller out from the shadow of her famed lover Man Ray. Miller’s son, Antony Penrose, loaned many of the pieces on view at the Legion of Honor’s fascinating and important exhibition, Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism, which closes this Sunday, October 14, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.  If you haven’t yet seen the show, it’s worth a visit.

Curated by Phillip Prodger, of Peabody Essex Museumin Salem, Mass, where it opened, the traveling exhibition features 115 paintings, photographs, drawings and letters.  If there’s one word to describe the show’s visual impact, it’s “sensual”—with luminous silver gelatin prints and bold images that celebrate the female anatomy.  Man Ray’s lush portraits of Miller tend to play up Miller’s softness and feminine beauty, whereas Miller depicted herself as a strong, empowered, heroic figure.   Aside from their tumultuous love story,  the exhibition explores the couple’s rich artistic collaoration and the depth of Miller’s own rich artistic legacy, providing ample evidence of her significant contributions to photopgraphy and to photojournalism.

Details:  Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism closes October 14, 2012.  The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. Museum hours are Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; closed on Monday.  Tickets: $15; seniors 65+ $12; youth 13-17 and students with current ID $11.  Purchase tickets in advance online here.  More info:  http://visit.legionofhonor.org.

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Legion of Honor | , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Saturday’s Scherman Lecture, by Dr. Alexander Nagel will reveal new information about ancient Iran’s brightly colored past and Professor David Stronach will sign “Ancient Iran from the Air,” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

Dr. Alexander Nagel, F|S assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art, this year’s Scherman lecturer, will deliver his findings on polychromy in ancient Iran. Dr. Nagel is part of team that, in 2006, began a systematic investigation into the role of colors, pigments and other materials on the surface of the monuments and buildings excavated between 1931 and 1939 on the terrace platform of Persepolis. Photo: courtesy Alexander Nagel

Much of what we know of ancient Persia’s history has been informed by studies of the magnificent site of Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC.  UNESCO world cultural heritage sites since 1979, these well-preserved ruins in Southwestern Iran constitute the most important examples of Achaemenid dynastic architecture in Iran.  Although it has long been known that these monuments and reliefs were painted, new research in the fascinating field of polychromy, or color, will be presented at this Saturday’s Scherman lecture at the Legion of Honor by Dr. Alexander Nagel Assistant Curator, Ancient Near Eastern Art, Freer│Sackler Galleries. Nagel will deliver “An Empire in Blue—Color in Persepolis: New Research on the Polychromy of Achaemenid Persian Palace Sculpture, ca. 520 to 330 BCE,” at 2 p.m.  The event, organized by FAMSF’s Ancient Art Council, is open to the public.  Following the lecture, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and one of the world’s leading scholars on ancient Iran, will be on hand to sign hot-off-the press copies of his Ancient Iran from the Air, published by Philipp von Zabern, which  just arrived from Germany.  The book, co-edited by Stronach, is a remarkable collection of aerial photographs taken by Swiss photographer Georg Gerster between 1976 and 1978 of Iran’s arresting landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments.  The book will not be available in bookstores until the fall but it will be sold at the Legion’s bookstore on Saturday.

Dr. Alexander Nagel collecting data for his research on polychromy at the Throne Hall built by Xerxes and completed by his son Artaxerxes I at the ancient site of Persepolis. Photo: courtesy Alexander Nagel.

New Insight on old Color:  Dr.  Nagel is what we might call a chromovore.  Fascinated with all aspects of color, he is at the forefront of contemporary research in polychromy, which is an exciting intersection of archaeology, anthropology, science, and conservation studies.  The emphasis is on using new technology to analyze old color and refining the actual meaning of color in the ancient world.  Nagel is part of a team that, in 2006, began a systematic building-by-building investigation into the role of colors, pigments and other materials on the surface of the monuments and buildings excavated between 1931 and 1939 on the terrace platform of Persepolis. During his great march across Asia, Alexander the Great was determined to see the end of the Persian Empire, the splendid Persepolis in particular, and he wreaked extensive destruction on its palaces, even setting the city on fire, but did not succeed in obliterating it.  Early travelers noted traces of paint on its stone sculptures and monuments, which has long fascinated researchers, but, prior to Nagel, no one has so systematically examined color and pigment.  Nagel will describe his research and will reveal how his results can change our perception of the ancient Near East,  as well as discuss a range of issues relating to restoring the polychromy of ancient structures.

The Legion’s treasured ancient Persian relief:   Following Saturday’s lecture, a small 4th Century B.C. stone relief from ancient Persepolis in the Legion’s lower level corridor cases, is bound to get a lot of attention as people try to imagine what this might have looked like in its original glorious color. The 5 by 8 inch relief of a gift bearer is the only ancient Persian relief in FAMSF holdings and is dated, in approximate terms, from between 490 and 470 BC.   It comes from one of the relief-decorated sides of the monumental stone staircases at Persepolis and is representative of a particularly accomplished moment in the history of Achaemenid Persian sculpture when the goal was to emphasize the role of the Achaemenid king.  Lord Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, wrote in 1892: “Everything is devoted, with unashamed repetition, to a single purpose, viz. the delineation of majesty in its most imperial guise, the pomp and panoply, of him who was well styled the Great King.”

Relief of a Gift Bearer, Persian, Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis, Palace of Darius or Xerxes, ca. 490–-470 B.C., Bituminous limestone, 2008 Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, purchase from various gifts and funds. Photo: courtesy FAMSF.

“The dress and pose indicate that the depicted individual was a royal servant,” said David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, UC Berkeley, who admires the relief.   “He was almost certainly shown carrying food (or some other item) in a long procession of servants.  His face is one of notable dignity and he is shown wearing a characteristically Persian headgear called a bashlyk. In hot and often dusty conditions, this was a very practical form of headgear that consisted of a cloth band that was wrapped round the head and neck.”

The relief’s journey out of Iran most likely occurred in the 19th century when a number of small-scale reliefs (often showing servants or guardsmen) were removed from the ruins at Persepolis. When these reliefs reached Europe, they were frequently trimmed to leave a neat, square shape suitable for framing.  As a rule, little more than the face and headgear were left in view.

Dr. Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator of ancient art and interpretation, is proud of the 2008 acquisition, not only for its exceptional detail but because it completes a gap in the museum’s collection.  “I wanted it for the collection because it gives visual expression to the Achaemenid style and iconography created for Darius and his successors and because it represents a stepping stone in the transition of figural art from the “Winged Genius” of the museum’s Assyrian wall relief to the figural art of classical Greece, and subsequently our Western tradition.  We learned of its existence through a dealer in New York.  A team of experts had examined the relief’s provenance and ascertained that it had been purchased by its original owner long enough ago to allow us to acquire it without issues and, even more remarkable, we had several ofdonors who gave significant sums to help us purchase it.”

Georg Gerster’s aerial photograph of the Sassanian City of Gu/Firuzabad, Iran. The city is divided into 20 parts, radially structured and extends over a plain crossed by pathways, drainage ditches, and irrigation channels. The tower at the heart of the city was essential for measuring the radial lines and also had a symbolic significance, as did the city’s circular shape. Photo: Georg Gerster.

“Very few such pieces with a long and well documented history of prior ownership outside Iran usually come on the market,” explained Stronach.  “The FAMSF are to be congratulated on the acquisition of this unusually fine, representative piece of Achaemenid sculpture.  It adds greatly to the distinction of the holdings in the Legion of Honor.”

More About Ancient Iran from the Air:  Between April 1976 and May 1978, Swiss photographer Georg Gerster flew across Iran, photographing the memorable landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments that characterize this storied land—the Sassanian city of Bishapur, the Sassanian imperial sanctuary at Tak-kt-I in Suleiman, Luristan, and Cheqa Nargesm in Mahidsasht, Iran—to name a few. Most of his photographs were safely stashed away in his archives in Switzerland.  Quite recently, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and Co-Director, UC Berkeley-Yerevan State University Excavations at Erebuni, working with Gerster and a number of reputed specialists in the art and archaeology of Iran, arranged to have these images published.  Ancient Iran from the Air provides—from a distinctly novel angle—a fresh appraisal of the greater part of the long history of the built environment in this crucial part of the ancient Near East.  (Read ARThound’s previous coverage of Dr. Stronach, Georg Gerseter and Ancient Iran from the Air, here.)

Dr. Alexander Nagel, F|S assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art, examining pigments left on a squeeze (a multidimensional mold) from the inscriptions of the façade of Darius I (d. 486 BCE). By analyzing the raw incidental artifacts that were picked up as molds were being made, Nagel, was able to identify the paint pigments left in the squeezes. Photo: courtesy Smithsonian Institution.

More about Alexander Nagel: Originally from Germany, Alexander Nagel earned his PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a focus on the art and archaeology of ancient Iran. His dissertation, completed in 2010, is titled Colors, Gilding and Painted Motifs in Persepolis: The Polychromy of Achaemenid Persian Architectural Sculpture, c. 520–330 BCE.   Nagel has helped organize numerous international conferences, including the landmark 2009 workshop The Color of Things: Debating the Current State and Future of Color in Archaeology at Stanford University.  He has authored several articles on his research, and has lectured in Europe and the United States on polychromy and the archaeology of the ancient Near East. In 2009, he was the University of Michigan Freer Fellow in residence at the Freer and Sackler.  I n fall 2010, he joined the Freer|Sackler staff as assistant curator of ancient Near Eastern art.  Nagel’s’s first F|S exhibition, Ancient Iranian Ceramics, opened in July 2011.

The Scherman Lecture Series is sponsored by the Scherman Family Foundation.  This lecture is held annually and followed by a reception for all attendees.

The Ancient Art Council is one FAMSF’s many specialized groups and offers regular programming, including lectures and tours, for those who share an interest in ancient art and the preservation and promotion of antiquities and culture of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Details: “An Empire in Blue—Color in Persepolis…” by Dr. Alexander Nagel is at 2:00 p.m, Florence Gould Theater, Legion of Honor, San Francisco. The lecture is free to the public.

Please RSVP by sending an email with subject “RSVP Scherman Lecture” to ancientart@famsf.org or phone 415 750 3686

March 8, 2012 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ancient Iran from the Air:” acclaimed archaeologist David Stronach presents Georg Gerster’s forthcoming book on Iran, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor this Saturday

Georg Gerster's aerial photograph of the Sassanian City of Gu/Firuzabad, Iran. The city is divided into 20 parts, radially structured and extends over a plain crossed by pathways, drainage ditches, and irrigation channels. The tower at the heart of the city was essential for measuring the radial lines and also had a symbolic significance, as did the city’s circular shape. Gerster is about to publish a new book of aerial photographs of ancient Iran. Photo: Georg Gerster.

My first encounter with Swiss photographer Georg Gerster’s magnificent aerial photographs of the monuments of the ancient Near East opened up a fascinating new world—one of tantalizing beauty,  riveting abstraction and amazing compositions.  For over 50 years, Gerster has been delighting audiences the world over with his breathtaking aerial shots, ranging from mountains and deserts to agrarian and industrial landscapes as well as world’s most spectacular archaeological sites and ancient monuments─from the temple at Karnak, Egypt, to the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, to the Great Wall of China, to the “big houses” of Caserones above the Tarapacá Gorge in remote Chile.  Not familiar with his work?  Google his name and the images are immediately familiar—they’ve appeared frequently in National Geographic and, in the 1970’s, Gerster did a series of now highly-collectible aerial images for Swiss Air, images which they developed into posters that represent a fabulous fusion of land art, minimalism and Gerster’s brilliant artist’s eye.  He started in the Sudan in 1963, on board a Cessna 72 with a Swedish pilot and has since taken photographs in 111 countries on all six continents.  

Desertification: Sistan, Iran. Barchan dunes in the process of reburying the remains of Dahan-e Ghulaman, an Achaemenid site first excavated in 1962. Georg Gerster, 1977. Photo: Georg Gerster copyright.

Gerster is about to make big news again with the publication of Ancient Iran from the Air, a new book of aerial photos of ancient Iran.  Between April 1976 and May 1978, Gerster flew across the length and breadth of Iran to photograph the memorable landscapes, archaeological sites, and historical monuments that characterize this storied land—the Sassanian city of Bishapur, the Sassanian imperial sanctuary at Tak-kt-I in Suleiman, Luristan, and Cheqa Nargesm in Mahidsasht, Iran—to name a few.  Most of the photographs were safely stashed away in his archives in Switzerland.  

Quite recently, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley and Co-Director, UC Berkeley-Yerevan State University Excavations at Erebuni, working with Gerster and a number of reputed specialists in the art and archaeology of Iran, arranged to have these images published.   Ancient Iran from the Air provides—from a distinctly novel angle—a fresh appraisal of the greater part of the long history of the built environment in this crucial part of the ancient Near East.

Isfahan, the Pre-e Bakran cemetery, near Isfahan. Photo: Georg Gerster copyright.

On Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 2 p.m., Stronach will give a presentation at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor featuring a selection of Gerster’s most arresting aerial views—and include the latest background information about those prehistoric, Achaemenid Persian, Parthian, Sasanian, and early Islamic sites “visited” through the medium of aerial photography.  Stronach is one of the world’s leading experts on ancient Iran, particularly the ancient city Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC).  In 2004, he was honored as the recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement, the highest honor bestowed by the AIA.  In the 1960s and 70s, Stronach was the Director of the British Institute of Persian Studies in Tehran.  In addition to a long and distinguished teaching career at UC Berkeley, he has delivered lectures on ancient Persia all over the world.

“It is a miracle that these precious images dating before the revolution were preserved,” said Dr. Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator of ancient art and interpretation.  “Today, it would be impossible to fly over Iran and capture its dramatically varied landscape and its ancient and fabled sites and monuments.  From these aerial images, you can observe so much more than you can ever glean from visiting this wonderful land.  David Stronach’s new publication will be an invaluable addition to the study of Iran, both ancient and more modern.”

This program, sponsored by the Ancient Arts Council, continues the celebration of Professor David Stronach’s 80th birthday.  The Ancient Arts Council is one FAMSF’s many specialized groups.  It offers regular programming, including lecture and tours, for those who share an interest in ancient art and the preservation and promotion of antiquities and culture of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Lake Maharlu, Iran. The level of Lake Maharlu, a salt lake, fluctuates over the year. When it is low, mature reddish brine collects at deep points of the drainage channels near the shore, and salt crystallizes on the lake. 1976. Photo: Georg Gerster, copyright.

In his best-selling catalog The Past from Above (2003)(p. 10) Gerster is quoted as saying ”distance creates an overview, and an overview creates insight,” a truism which is integral to archaeological research.  Aside from their aesthetic impact, Gerster’s photos show the landscape, the geographical context and the area covered by a settlement, together with surrounding natural resources.  An aerial view also occasionally allows for the discovery of some previously unknown monuments that have been invisible from the ground.  

“William M. Sumner, who excavated the Elamite capital at Anshan (Tal-I Malyan) in south-western Iran, wrote to tell me that when he saw an aerial photograph of the site that I had taken when the sun was low in the sky, he saw and understood more in ten minutes that he had done in ten years of regular work on the ground. (The Past from Above, p. 25)  

If you go:  Allow ample time as you won’t want to miss the Legion’s other rare treasures in stone:

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy on loan trhough August 20, 2011 from the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which is undergoing renovation.  The exhibition, in Galleries 1 and 2, consists of 37 exceptional 15th Century devotional figures, mourners in a royal funeral procession. The sculptures, each approximately sixteen inches high, and carved from the finest alabaster, are from the tomb of John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second duke of Burgundy.  The figures are all cloaked and are representative of all different strata of society.  They appear to be sharing grief by praying, reflecting and singing and represent the highest level of artistic accomplishment, with exquisite treatment of drapery and detailed carving extending to areas not be visible to the public eye.  The figures are displayed so that they can be walked around and examined up close.  In their original setting, the elaborate tomb of John the Fearless located at a monastery on the outskirts of Dijon, they would have been displayed flush against the tomb.  The Mourners are one of the centerpieces of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. (Preview the sculptures in 360º and 3D at www.themourners.org.)

Bernini’s Medusa: on loan from the Museu Capitolini, Rome (through February 12, 2012), Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s remarkable Baroque masterpiece Medusa, believed to date from roughly 1638 to 1648, is on exclusive display in the U.S. at the Legion.  The sculpture has been newly cleaned and restored and installed in the museum’s Baroque gallery 6 with impeccable lighting and nuances previously unnoticeable are detectible.  Believed to date from around 1638 to 1648, this extraordinary work takes its subject from classical mythology, as cited in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It shows the beautiful Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters, caught in the terrible process of transformation into a monster whose hair is a mass of twisting snakes. Onlookers staring directly at her would turn to stone.  The Medusa will be displayed exclusively in the U.S. at the Legion of Honor in the museum’s Baroque gallery 6, where it can be seen in context with the Museums’ great collections of paintings and sculpture from the era of Bernini.  (Take a virtual tour of the Musei Capitolini here.)

Details: “Ancient Iran from the Air,” Saturday, December 3, 2011 – 2:00 pm, Florence Gould Theater, Legion of Honor, San Francisco.  Cost: Free with Museum admission to Ancient Arts Council members; $5 suggested donation/non-members.

December 2, 2011 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ARThound talks with the van Otterloo’s about their collection of Dutch and Flemish Old Masters at the Legion of Honor through October 2, 2011

Gerrit Dou’s still life “Sleeping Dog” (1650), oil on panel, is just one of the van Otterloo treasures on display at the Legion of Honor through October 2, 2011. Measuring just 6½ x 8½ in. (16.5 x 21.6 cm), it exhibits such life-like brush strokes that you can see every hair along the dog’s back, hind quarters. This tender depiction of a sleeping mutt is clearly inspired by a Rembrandt etching, also on display at the Legion. Image Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Crème de la crème” best describes the exquisite private collection of over 60 Old Master paintings now on display at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor through October 2, 2011.  Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection includes Rembrandt’s important Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, Aged 62, and works by Jan Brueghal the Elder, Gerrit Dou, Franz Hals, Jacob van Rusidal, Hendrick Avercamp, and Jan Steen to name few.   What? You’ve never heard of the van Otterloos?    Rose-Marie and Eijk, originally from Belgium and the Netherlands respectively, and long term residents of Marblehead, Mass., are a rarity in flashy and boastful art world and have for the past 20 years been quietly amassing a collection of the finest exemplars of the Dutch Golden Age—paintings that are exceptional for their quality, condition, historical interest—and that speaks for itself.   The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo collection excels in every genre: portraits, still life, historical paintings, city, land and seascapes, and important works by female artists.  The collection comes to San Francisco from a tour that originated in Holland at the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis (Het Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen, in The Hague, and continued nationally at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts and will conclude in November, 2011, at the Fine Arts Museum of Houston.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paper Dresses inspired by Renaissance finery: Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Pulp Fashion opens Saturday at the Legion of Honor with demonstrations and workshops

Isabelle de Borchgrave, Eleanor of Toledo (and detail), 2006, inspired by a ca. 1545 portrait of Eleanor and her son Giovanni de’ Medici by Agnolo Bronzino in the collection of the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Photo: René Stoeltie

Fashion is all in the details…exacting tailoring, the perfect line and lush materials all working to create a statement.  Very few people would make an immediate connection between the legendary fashions of Italy’s Medici courts and paper but Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave is renowned for doing just that.  She re-creates and paints exquisite life-size historical costumes from paper, taking her inspiration from European paintings, iconic costumes in museums, photographs, sketches, and literary descriptions.  Pulp Fashion:  The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave  features 60 of de Borchgrave’s exquisite creations and opens this Saturday at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and runs through June 5, 2011.  The artist will be at the Legion on Saturday demonstrating her techniques for transforming paper into couture for all interested.

Isabelle de Borchgrave, sketch for Eleanor of Toledo, 2006, inspired by a ca. 1545 portrait of Eleanor and her son Giovanni de’ Medici by Agnolo Bronzino in the collection of the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Photo: Courtesy Créations Isabelle de Borchgrave

The Legion of Honor is the first American museum to dedicate an entire exhibition to de Borchgrave, who is revered in Europe.  Pulp Fashion falls under the Legion’s Collection Connections series that invites contemporary artists to reinterpret traditional objects from the Fine Arts Museums’ permanent collections, giving visitors a window into the ways that artists and cultural institutions intersect.  When Borchgrave visited the Legion of Honor last summer, she selected four paintings from the Legion’s legendary European painting collection that communicated an interesting fashion statement to her and they became the inspiration for 5 historical dresses created especially for this exhibition and shown for the first time.  The paintings are: Massimo Stanzione, Woman in Neapolitan Costume, ca. 1635, Konstantin Makovsky, The Russian Bride’s Attire, 1889, Jacob-Ferdinand Voet, Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba, ca. 1675, and Anthony van Dyck, Marie Claire de Cory and Child, 1634.    

Pulp Fashion includes quintessential examples in the history of costume—from Renaissance costumes of the Medici family and gowns worn by Elizabeth I and Marie-Antoinette to the designs of the grand couturiers Fredrick Worth, Paul Poiret, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.   Special attention is given to the creations and studio of Mariano Fortuny, the eccentric early 20th-century Italian artist, who is both a kindred spirit and a major source of inspiration to de Borchgrave.  De Borchgrave is not creating exact copies of these historical dresses but uses them as inspiration, masterfully working the paper to a desired effect of her choosing.  She pleats, hand paints, and manipulates the paper into recreations of designs from fashion greats and periods, achieving with paper what many designers never fully achieve with fabric.  The exhibition is presented in six sections:

Isabelle de Borchgrave (blond) and studio collaborators at work on a piece inspired by Agnolo Bronzino’s portrait of Eleanor of Toledo, 2006. Photo: Courtesy Créations Isabelle de Borchgrave

The Artist’s Studio is recreated to provide insight into de Borchgrave’s creative process.

In White showcases the purity of craftsmanship in a selection of nine dresses devoid of color. 

Papiers à la Mode features iconic looks from key periods in fashion history; gowns worn by such legendary historical figures as Elizabeth I, Madame de Pompadour, Empress Eugénie and Marie-Antoinette.  Famous designers such as Charles Fredrick Worth, Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel are represented by signature pieces.

 Fortuny is an immersive environment created under a feather-light paper tent populated by recreations of Mariano Fortuny’s famed pleated and draped gowns.

Isabelle de Borchgrave, Maria de’ Medici, 2006, inspired by a ca. 1555 portrait by Alessandro Allori in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel

The Medici is the artist’s most extravagant series, with elaborate velvets, needlework lace, ropes of pearls, and intricate coiffures transformed into paper sculpture.

Isabelle de Borchgrave was formally trained in painting and drawing at the Centre des Arts Décoratifs and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and began her artistic career designing dresses of hand-painted fabric for special occasions.  For more than fifteen years, she has been producing a completely original body of work, often in paper, that is very difficult to categorize.  Historical dresses are used as inspiration as de Borchgrave masterfully works the paper to a desired effect of her choosing.  She is also a designer and interior decorator who finds an inexhaustible source of inspiration in paper.  She has designed exquisite paper products for Caspari, posters for Wild Apple and in March 2007, she launched a line of paper party décor, called Isabelle Party with Target stores.  

With her trompe l’oeil paper gowns in Pulp Fashion , she invites her viewers to explore her imaginary world and to then use their own creativity to form their own illusions.  As de Borchgrave explains, “Although my inspiration springs from the period dresses in the great museum collections, this is just a wink at history.  My work is a confluence of influences—paper, painting, sculptor, textiles, costume, illusion and trompe l’oeil.”  

Pulp Fashion brilliantly reflects the sensibilities and excesses of several eras, providing a vivid picture of how styles have changed but that exquisite craftsmanship is always revered.

Isabelle de Borchgrave, Maria de’ Medici (detail), 2006, inspired by a ca. 1555 portrait by Alessandro Allori in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel

Meet Isabelle de Borchgrave this Saturday:  This Saturday, February 5, 2011, from 11a.m. to 11:45 a.m., as part of the exhibition’s opening day celebration, Isabelle de Borchgrave will be at the Legion and will complete a painted dress pattern before your eyes.  This process will reveal the painstaking detail that goes into each of her creations and the creative magic that transforms a simple material like paper into the most luxurious of garments.  Free with museum  admission.  

Pulp Fashion Workshop for Children this Saturday:  Also, on Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m., de Borchgrave will lead a hands-on workshop for children.  They will learn to transform simple paper into splendid textiles.  This workshop space is available on a drop-in basis.  Space is limited and participation will be on a first come first served basis.  Free with museum admission.

Exhibition Catalogue:  FAMSF curator Jill D’Alessandro has contextualized de Borchgrave’s work against the rich tapestry of art and couture history in the exhibition catalogue Pulp Fashion: the Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave.   The catalogue, rich with illustrations and photos, examines how de Borchgrave brings long-lost fashions to life through an intricate process of tailoring, crumpling, braiding, pleating and painting paper.   A special section focuses on the making of a new work inspired by a seventeenth-century Italian portrait in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  The catalogue is available in the special exhibition Museum Store (hardback 104 pages, $29.95) or for pre-order online through Amazon.com.

Details: The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco.  Open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., with admission ranging from $6 to $10.  For information, visit http://legionofhonor.famsf.org   or call (415) 750-3600.  

 

February 1, 2011 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In its Final Days: “Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism,” Legion of Honor, San Francisco.

Left: Hiroshige, Gion Shrine in the Snow (Gionsha setchu), from the series Famous Places in Kyoto (Kyoto meisho no uchi), ca. 1833–1834. Right: Henri Riviere, La Tour en construction, vue de Trocadero, pl. 3 from the book Les Trente-Six Vues de la Tour Eiffel, 1902. Color lithograph © 2010 ARS, New York / ADAGP, Paris

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism” at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor closes this Sunday.  The show consists of roughly 250 prints, drawings, and artists’ books that trace the development of the Japanese print over two centuries (1700–1900) and reveal Japanesque’s profound influence on Western art during the era of Impressionism.  Most of the works are from the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts which is the works on paper department of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FMASF).  See this show now, because it’s likely you won’t see these prints together again for at least 20 years according to exhibition curator Karin Breuer.  The long interval between exhibits is necessary to preserve the prints as prolonged exposure to light will cause fading.  The lighting in the show is subdued but more than adequate to view the prints.  Each print in the show is being tracked to monitor how long it is out of its archival box and exposed to light.  The show complements “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay,” at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, through January 18, 2011. Many of the paintings from the Musée d’Orsay are aesthetically indebted to concepts of Japanese art.

Japanesque unfolds in three sections: Evolution, Essence and Influence.

Evolution: Evolution presents a chronological development of the Japanese print in Edo (presentday Tokyo), beginning with early black-and-white woodcuts and handcolored woodcuts. They are followed by delicate three- and four-color prints by early masters of ukiyo-e such as Suzuki Harunobu and Kitagawa Utamaro that feature the courtesans and beauties of the “floating world.” Landscape prints from the 1830s by Katsushika Hokusai and Ando Hiroshige are shown as examples of that important Japanese genre.

Essence:  The Essence section features the Japanese aesthetic in print, and particularly highlights those subjects and compositional concepts that Western artists admired and imitated.  Iconic images such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave and Fuji above the Lightning from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (1831–1834) are shown here, as well as Hiroshige’s Plum Orchard from his famous series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1857).

Influence:  A large group of works by European and American artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist eras who were influenced by the Japanese print includes prints and drawings by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.  The artists collected Japanese prints and often produced their own graphic work that, in composition, color, and imagery borrowed directly from the Japanese aesthetic.  Henri Rivière’s homage to Hokusai Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower (1902) is featured, as well as the work of American artists such as Arthur Wesley Dow and Helen Hyde, who traveled to Japan to enhance their knowledge of the Japanese color woodcut.

Artist Studio featuring the Craft of the Color Woodcut:  Color woodcut techniques developed by the Japanese and adopted by Western artists are featured in a special education gallery within the exhibition. The “artist studio” includes woodblocks, tools, preparatory drawings, and progressive color prints that demonstrate the process of designing, carving, and printing color woodcuts.

Details: The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco. For information, visit http://www.legionofhonor.org  or call (415) 750-3600.

Tickets to “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond” at the de Young are good for same-day admission to “Japanesque” at the Legion of Honor.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Valentine’s Day! Big Girls Need Big Diamonds …“Cartier and America” exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor delivers

Elizabeth Taylor with Richard Burton at the 42nd Academy Awards on April 7, 1970, wearing the Taylor-Burton diamond in its Cartier setting in public for the first time.

World over in February, couples celebrate Valentine’s Day with thoughts of love and tokens affection.  Red roses, chocolates and poetry are standards but fine jewelry takes “Be my Valentine” to another level.  A trip to the Legion of Honor’s spectacular “Cartier and America” exhibition which runs through April 18, 2010 will set you back $20.00 ($40.00 for two) but it will fill that longing to browse amongst jewels of rare artistry and to learn about the famous people who possessed them and about Cartier, the French company that made it all possible.  Marking Cartier’s 100 years in the United States, the exhibition features a spectacular array of some 300 objects from the Belle Epoch (1899-1918), Art Deco (1918-1937), pre and postwar periods and beyond. ranging from one-of-a- kind stunners like the Star of Africa diamond to white diamond suites, to the highly-colored exotic creations of the 1920s and 1930’s, to mystery clocks whose hands seems to float in air.  And, pure luxury aside, ARThound would be remiss not to mention the cuteness factor of Cartier’s dogs and small animals for the vanity, carved of stones like smoky quartz, amethyst and rhodonite.  

Curated by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s, Martin Chapman, Curator of European Decorative Arts, the exhibition is as much about breathtaking design and engineering as it about the social history of America’s wealthy—the famous “haves” who, during the heydays of American capitalism, were obsessed with European aristocracy and refinement.  American who married royals, heiresses, Hollywood stars, and other notables all considered Cartier essential in affirming their status and giving them an essential edge out-blinging one another. A fascinating aspect of this show (which is not traveling after its run at the Legion) is that Chapman had full access to Cartier’s extensive archives and included as much detail as could be found about prominent San Franciscans and their connections with Cartier.  And several exquisite pieces that have never been exhibited before—the Duchess of Windsor’s diamond encrusted Flamingo brooch, her panther bracelet, Grace Kelly’s engagement ring—shine brightly at the Legion alongside more well-known Cartier classics.

Should you question the placement of jewelry in a fine arts museum or the inappropriate whiff of commerce surrounding any Cartier exhibition, FAMSF patron and board chair Dede Wilsey—who lent a bracelet—will answer that it is not the stones per se– but the technical skills that Cartier craftsmen brought to their work that make these luxury jewels worthy of exhibition in any museum in the world.  After examining these pieces close-up, their design, refinement and engineering are certainly worthy of high art.  It is regrettable that the highly-skilled members of the Cartier design team remain anonymous under the ever-powerful Cartier brand.  When the company was formed, these artisans started out at age 14 and labored for 10 years with Cartier before they were able to work on a piece alone.  Nowadays, they start at age 21, after studying at design school.   

Cartier in Paris—a bold move to establish a signature style 

Founded in Paris in 1847, the House of Cartier originally sold a wide range of luxury goods made by others, including luxury jewelry made by several local Parisian ateliers.  Everything changed in 1899, when it moved to rue de la Paix (right next to Worth, the most influential Parisian fashion house), set up its own design studio at these new headquarters and developed a signature style for its own jewelry. 

Rose and Lily Corsage Ornament, Cartier Paris, 1906, platinum, round old- and rose-cut diamonds, millegrain setting, 19.5 x 29 cm. Sold to Mary Scott Townsend, Cartier Collection, CL 134A06, Nick Welsh © Cartier

Cartier rejected the popular Art Nouveau style which was deemed static and incapable of much evolution in terms of unique jewelry production and introduced its “garland” style inspired by the neoclassical style of the neoclassical-period which emphasized tassels, ribbon-bows and dangling glittering diamond pendants.  Cartier’s biggest and most risky move was introducing platinum over the traditional gold and silver as its preferred setting material.  Platinum’s greater stability allowed more diamonds to be set in a piece in a small area and enabled the number of articlulations to be increased without endangering the global solidity of the piece. It was also tarnish-free. Tiaras could now hold thousands of tiny diamonds. With the advent of electrical lighting which transformed the interplay between light and jewels and the availability of relatively cheap small diamonds from the new finds in South Africa, Cartier’s risk-taking paid off.   Cartier quickly became a de rigueur destination point for European royals and for wealthy Americans visiting Paris whose conspicuous consumption was targeted towards emulating European aristocracy.

Even as the royal courts of Europe were undergoing their final moments, Cartier was outfitting American women with diamonds mounted in the refined Louis XVI style inspired by French royal jewels of the 1700’s.  The early galleries house a dazzling array of Cartier tiaras, brooches, pendant necklaces and stomachers (brooches worn over the breast or stomach in the 17th and 18th centuries).   Mrs. Townsend’s “devant de corsage” “Rose and Lily corsage ornament” commissioned to Cartier Paris, 1906 -is exceptional in its craftsmanship.  3-D sprays of blooming lilies are entwined in a garland of lifelike roses; it  is sculpted entirely diamonds in the taste of the late eighteenth century.

In this bygone era of luxury steamship travel, glittering balls and society debuts, American socialites such as railway and coal heiress Mary Scott Townsend of Washington D.C. ordered elaborate diamond-studded tiaras and wore them.  In fact, Cartier’s archives reveal dozens of orders for diamond-studded tiaras from the 100 or so Americans who married into British aristocracy– and thus were technically entitled to wear them–and from others who had no European royal or aristocratic marriages.  Martin Chapman explains in the exhibition catalog that tiaras remained fashionable with America’s upper crust up until WWI but there are several instances of Americans, like Marjorie Merriweather Post (Post cereal fortune heiress and formerly Mrs. E.F. Hutton) who had no connection to royalty  but wore tiaras through the 1950’s and 1960’s.  These women complimented their tiaras with substantial bling that covered their head, neck and bosoms so that they literally became top-heavy with diamonds. 

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, ca. 1909 wearing her 1909 Cartier necklace in its original form, a 1909 Cartier tiara amd 1904 Cartier rose brooch from Princess Mathilde.

A 1909 photograph of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III shows her wearing it all– a stunning Cartier diamond-set rose brooch from Princess Mathilde, the cultural icon of France during the Second Empire, a necklace she commissioned from Cartier in 1909 of huge hexagonal diamond pendants, and a grand “Russian style” Cartier tiara from 1909. 

All that survives from her necklace is a single hexagonal

Pendant, Cartier Paris, 1909, Diamonds and platinum, 11.9 x 4.7 cm. Sold to Grace Wilson (Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III) Cartier Collection, CL 269A09.

 pendant, which at 4 3/4 inches in length is substantial in itself.  Thanks to Cartier’s thorough records, explained Chapman, we can reconstruct how most Cartier pieces looked in their original forms.  From the early 1900’s, a photograph and a plaster cast of each piece was made as it left the Cartier workshop in order to enable craftsmen to copy, repair or alter the piece at some future date. The plaster cast of Vanderbilt necklace is displayed beside the portrait, along with the pendant.   These extensive archives also reveal the fascinating and successive transformations a piece of jewelry went through due to change in ownership or evolving taste.  

Because many pieces from the old world were sold through Cartier to the new world, Cartier served as a bridge between the old European and the new American aristocracy explained Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of image, style and heritage.  Some of the famed jewelry of Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean Bonaparte III, was sold off by Third Republic and bought and traded by Cartier.  Marie-Antoinette’s famed pear-shaped diamond earrings were purchased from Cartier by Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1928

Pendant brooch, Cartier London, 1923; altered 1928, Cartier New York. Emeralds, diamonds, platinum and enamel, 20.3 x 5.1 cm, Hillwood estate, Museum & Gardens, bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973.

Post was one of Cartier’s most important American clients.  Her stunning emerald and diamond pendant shoulder brooch from the 1920’s, which graces the catalog and exhibition poster,  is one of the most spectacular pieces Cartier ever made, incorporating fabulous Indian carved emeralds, one of which dates from India’s Mughal era.  She had Cartier New York alter its top to the buckle in 1928. 

Cartier’s New York Store—paid for in pearls

To accommodate its clients, Cartier opened branches in London (1902) and New York City (1909).  After securing a rather blasé second floor space on Fifth Avenue, Pierre, the second of the three Cartier brothers, finagled the Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street Plant townhouse for the Cartier flagship store from financier Morton F. Plant.  Plant sold his mansion for a dollar and a stunning two strand Cartier natural pearl necklace valued at $1,000,000, which he gave to his wife. The New York store initially attracted clientele that included Gilded Age heiresses like Evalyn Walsh McLean, Daisy Fellowes, Barbara Hutton and a bevy of Vanderbilt women, all of whom deemed Cartier the essential measure of refinement.

The San Francisco Connection

Exploring the connection between San Franciscans and Cartier was a priority of curator Martin Chapman.  The only San Franciscan found in Cartier’s Paris archives with a San Francisco address is Mrs. Newstatter, wife of a clothing manufacturer on Market Street, who in 1908 purchased a diamond studded choker with a big pendant underneath.  There are, however,  indirect connections to San Francisco.   

American-born Lady Granard, the 8th Countess of Granard, was raised in San Francisco as Beatrice Mills, the daughter of financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills (Mills College, Millbrae).  She was a regular client of Cartier London and was particularly fond of enormous tiaras, ordering three between 1922 and 1937.  

A life-size Giovanni Boldini portrait from 1905, owned by the Legion, depicts one of the Cartier’s San Francisco’s clients of the Gilded Age, Virginia Graham Fair Vanderbilt, “Birdie,” the second of William K. Vanderbilt Jr.’s five wives.  There are several pieces of her jewelry throughout the exhibition but it is not known if she is wearing Cartier in the portrait.  She was born Virginia Fair in San Francisco and was the daughter of Silver King James Fair, (“Slippery Jim”) who made a fortune overnight off the rich Comstock Lode in the Virginia City, Nevada, the largest deposit of gold and silver ever found.  In the late 1800’s, Fair (then Senator Fair) purchased the hillside at Mason and California Streets.  After he died, Virginia and her sister Tessie built the famous Fairmont Hotel in 1902, the jewel in the crown of Nob Hill.

Scarab buckle brooch, Cartier London, 1924, Ancient Egyptian faience, smoky quartz, enamel, diamonds, emeralds, platinum, and gold, 5 x 13 cm. Cartier Collection, CL 32A24

Art Deco: Cartier’s Shining Glory

During the interwar period,or ” Art Deco era” (1918-1937), Cartier established the repertoire of Art Deco for the upper crust with its display at the definitive Paris exposition of 1925, the world’s largest international fair dedicated to the display of modern decorative arts.  Cartier did not exhibit with jewelers, but anchored itself in high fashion at the Pavillon de l’Elegance, alongside leading couture  houses like Worth and Jenny and dictated the “new” style–tiaras worn low on the brow, long ear pendants, a large brooch at the bust and a necklace slung across the chest that fastened to the dress at the back.  New geometric designs incorporated pearls and diamonds with strong bursts of specific color combinations—brilliant green from emeralds, a signature Cartier coral (in a unique shade between pink angel skin and the darker Mediterranean coral) and black onyx.  

Hindu necklace, Carter, Paris, special order, 1936, altered in 1963, platinum, white gold, marquise-, baguette-, and round old-cut diamonds, thirteen briolette-cut sapphires weighing 146.9 carat in total, two leaf-shaped carved sapphires, 50.8 and 42.45 carats, sapphire beads, one sapphire cabochon, square carved emeralds, fluted and smooth emerald beads, and emerald cabochons, 43cm. Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection, © Cartier NE28A36

Exoticism was a strong force in Cartier design in the 1920’s and 1930’and was important as counterbalance to the hard-edged International Modernism of the 1930’s.  A number of pieces on display are inspired by decorative arts of Egypt, India, China and Japan.  The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, for example, inspired several Cartier pieces, artworks, that incorporated fragments of actual Egyptian artifacts.  Three faience buckle-brooches, never exhibited together before, shine in their elegance, incorporating scarabs with deco style. One buckle was owned by Cole Porter’s wife, an important client.

The “tutti frutti” design that Cartier pioneered in its Indian style jewelry was coveted for its vibrant mix of emeralds, rubies and sapphires—these pieces seem to scream “I’m terribly expensive” and “I’m playfully beautiful.”    The “Hindu” necklace commissioned by Daisy Fellowes, the Singer sewing machine heiress, in 1936 is unparalleled.  Modeled after a 1935 Cartier design for an Indian maharajah—the necklace has over 1,000 stones—cut diamonds and sapphires and carved ruby, sapphire and emerald leaves imported from India.  Interesting note—these jewels were made for and worn by males in India but experienced a sex change when they came to the West where they were coveted, custom-ordered and worn by American women. 

Cartier actually established a trading post in Delhi, India in 1911, to buy emeralds and to solidify relationships with important Indian maharajas who were strong clients. Rainero explained that gemological studies have confirmed that “Indian emeralds” from the Mughal Empire (1556 to 1707) were actually mined in Columbia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and brought to India by the Portuguese who controlled India’s harbors.  The history of jewelry is thus entwined with world trade and economic history and sales transactions have been telling indicators. 

Mystery Clocks

Cartier’s magical mystery clocks are its largest and most complex artworks and eight are in the exhibition. On prominent display, as you first enter the show, is the Belikan Portique Mystery Clock in the form of a Shinto Shrine Gate, bought in 1923 by opera singer Ganna Walska, second wife of Chicago industrialist Harold F. McCormick (1872-1941),

Portique mystery clock, Cartier Paris, 1923. Rock crystal, onyx, gold, enamel, diamonds, platinum, coral, and clock movements, 35 x 23 x 13 cm, sold to Ganna walska, Cartier Collectio, CM 09A23

 inventor and manufacturer of the harvest reaper.  This clock was the first of six in a series of portique style rock crystal gates created between 1923 and 1925.  The clock is transparent and its platinum and diamond hands seem suspended in air as they float around the dial.  How and where was the watch movement be hidden?   Gazing intently at the front and rear of the clock doesn’t provide any clues.  These mystery clocks were the result of collaboration between Louis Cartier and clockmaker Maurice Couët that started around 1912.  The designs varied but there were five principle types that were produced in small lots with slight variations. The designs grew more complex and exotic over time, progressing to figural clocks which incorporated intricately carved Chinese figures, usually made of jade.  The hands either floated on or behind glass with no apparent mechanism.  In the case of the portique clock, the hands are mounted on glass discs and the disc is driven from the movement hidden in the lintel, above the pillars.  A team of lapidaries, horologists, jewelers and designers spent up to a year creating a single clock.  Today, just a few artisans know how to make this movement. 

Ganna Walska was a notable Cartier patron who was profiled colorfully in a 1934 Time Magazine article “Countess Reincarnate” describing her opera performance as one that “should be seen and not heard.”  In 1941, she bought the Santa Barbara “Cuesta Linda” estate and transitioned it to “Lotusland,” a retreat with extensive botanical gardens. (See hilarious 2006 Wall Street Journal article “What the Diva Wrought.”)  So determined was she to complete this magnum opus that she auctioned off her Cartier jewelry to finance and endow Lotusland.

Great Transactions– Historical Diamonds

Cartier’s legacy goes hand in hand with the sale and resale of famous historical diamonds—remarkable diamonds whose value goes beyond the tradtional perameeters of valuation because they are a part of history.

The Star of South Africa, prominantly displayed at the Legion, was the first important large white diamond to come from South Africa and is credited with turning the tides of fortune in South Africa .  In 1869, it was picked up by a Griqua shepherd boy near the Orange River who traded it to a Boer settler for five hundred sheep, ten oxen, and a horse.  It weighed 83.5 carats in rough crystal form and was cut into a 47.69-carat old style pear-cut diamond.  The stone was later called the “Dudley diamond” after the Earl of Dudley who purchased it for his wife, Lady Dudley, who wore it as a hair ornament surrounded by 95 smaller diamonds. The stone was also owned by J.P.  Morgan before it made its way in 1917 to Cartier, New York, and was reset as a magnificent brooch.

In 1912, Pierre Cartier sold the legendary 45.52 carat Hope Diamond–the rarest and most perfect blue diamond in existance–for $180,000 to Evalyn Walsh McLean.  She was the wife of Ned McLean, wealthy publisher of the Washington Post, and the only daughter of Thomas Walsh, an immigrant miner and prospector turned millionaire.  The diamond’s last private owner, she delighted in flaunting a jewel that many thought cursed and wore it flamboyantly until her death in 1947.  Harry Winston Inc.,  of  New York City, purchased her entire jewelry collection, including the Hope Diamond, from her estate in 1949 and in November, 1958, donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it almost immediately became its premier attraction.  The Hope Diamond is not on display.

Richard Burton’s spectacular gifts of jewels to Elizabeth Taylor were media events that marked the 1960’s.  His most famous purchase was the 69.42-carat pear-shape diamond, later named the Taylor-Burton Diamond from Cartier in 1969.  Certified by the GIA’s Gem Trade Laboratory, the stone was graded as Internally Flawless, F Color.  The diamond is not at the Legion but the story is worth repeating.

In a highly publicized auction, Burton bid on the necklace for Liz but was outbid by Cartier whose winning bid resulted in the stone initially being named the “Cartier” diamond.  Right after the sale, Burton was determined to acquire the diamond from Cartier and offered to buy the stone. Cartier agreed to sell it to him under the condition that it could be displayed at its Chicago and New York stores as the “Cartier.”  Of course, everyone in America knew the story, and more than 6000 people a day flocked to Cartier’s New York store to see Liz’s rock. Taking advantage of the terms of purchase that allowed them to re-name the stone, Liz and Dick re-christened it the “Taylor-Burton” diamond when they took possession.  Liz wore the diamond the first time in public for Princess Grace’s 40th birthday party in Monaco, and the diamond’s transport was a media event in itself.  In 1970, she had Cartier re-mount it into a necklace and wore it to the Oscars in 1970, where she was a media sensation.  Following her 1978 divorce from Burton, Taylor sold the diamond for $5,000,000 to NY jeweler Henry Lambert and used part of the proceeds to build a hospital in Botswana.  Its current owner is Lebanese diamond dealer Robert Mouawad.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor– A Panther Phenomena

Flamingo clip brooch, Cartier Paris, 1940, Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, citrine, and platinum, 10 x 6 cm, California collection.

Wallis Simpson, the controversial Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986), was an American socialite whose third husband was Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor and former King Edward VIII of England.  The King’s desire to marry a twice-divorced American with two living ex-husbands caused a constitutional crisis in England that ultimately led to his abdication in December 1936.  After abdicating, he became the Duke of Windsor and married Simpson six months later, who became the Duchess of Windsor but was denied the style “Her Royal Highness.”

The Duchess made the Paris Couture best-dressed list in 1935 and remained there for 40 years, famous for her elegant but simply-tailored clothes and chic jewels.  She was Cartier’s most important client during this period after her marriage and several of her masterpieces are at the Legion.  “She was willing to be quite cutting edge,” explained Pierre Rainero, “ to wear things that other women would not wear and she wore then very well.”   She amassed a huge collecion of important jewelry that was sold at auction in 1987 for a shattering $50 million.

Rainero went on to explain that, usually, Cartier’s most daring objects were made for stock, and that special orders that adhere strictly to the request of customers are almost always “looking backwards.  The Duchess of Windsor, however, fell under the category of a notable exception—a client whose strong character led to her strong pieces that were an expression of her character.  The duke and duchess forged a special relationship with Cartier’s Jeanne Toussaint (1887-1978) who had been in charge of Cartier’s precious jewelry since the mid-1930’s and all the Duchess’s most important jewelry were collaborations between the duke, the duchess and Toussaint.

Panther clip brooch, Cartier Paris, 1949. Sapphires, diamonds, yellow diamonds, platinum, and white gold, 6 x 3.7 cm, sold to HRH Duke of Windsor, Cartier Collection, CL 53A49

The Duchess’s Flamingo clip brooch (1940) is arguably her most famous piece of custom- designed Cartier jewelry and is exhibited at the Legion for the first time.  The piece was  fabricated from the Windsor’s own collection of bangles with the collaboration of Toussaint. The flamingo’s body and long stilt legs are of pave diamonds while the vibrant bristling plumage is fabricated of calibré-cut rubies, sapphires and emeralds.   The attitude is “quite daring” in this landmark piece, explained  Rainero.  “It has a real sense of humor for a Duchess and it marks the end of certain period, as it was delivered to her just days before the Germans invaded Paris in June, 1940.”   In the late 1980’s, the flamingo’s status as an icon was secured when it became a knockoff by costume jeweler Kenneth J. Lane   The original was sold at auction in 1987, privately acquired.

Another of the Duchess’s iconic stunners is her diamond and sapphire panther clip brooch, bought as a stock item from Cartier Paris in 1949.  The regal panther is crouched in a life-like pose on a perfectly round 152.35 carat cabochon star sapphire.  It was this very panther that launched the “big cat craze, ” which swept up the duchess herself.  Her 1952 Panther bracelet, also exhibited at the Legion for the first time, is set with calibré-cut black onyx and diamonds and is so finely articulated that it wraps around the wrist like fabric.  Other jewelry collectors, such as Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton followed suit.  She had Cartier make her a draping Tiger brooch and ear clips (also on display) of yellow diamonds and onyx resembling the ram’s skin suspended from the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Flamboyant Jewels for Film Stars

María Félix in 1975 wearing her 1975 Cartier crocodile necklace and 1967 Cartier emerald ear clips.

The show’s final gallery includes some delightful short film clips of movie stars who, over time, garnered media attention as the new aristocrats and who famously wore Cartier.   Their famous jewels are on display too.  Gloria Swanson is wearing her Cartier diamond bracelets from “Sunet Blvd.”   Tallulah Bankhead surrenders her Cartier for bait in  “Lifeboat.”   Gace Kelly polishes her 10 carat emerald-diamond engagement ring (from Prince Rainier of Monaco)  in her last movie “High Society.”   And, while poolside in Cap Ferrat, in 1957, a gorgeous young Liz Taylor, captured in a home movie, gleefully recevies ruby and diamond earrings, a necklace, and bracelet from husband Mike Todd.

María Félix, the wildly beautiful siren from the golden age of Mexican cinema, is famous for having turned down the small film roles offered by Hollywood’s Cecil B. DeMille with the reply, “I was not born to carry a basket.” 

Crocodile Necklace, Cartier Paris, 1975, gold, 1,023 brilliant-cut yellow diamonds, two navette-shaped emerald cabochons (eyes), 1,060 emeralds, and two ruby cabochons (eyes). Cartier Collection, © Cartier

Félix found the perfect expression of her bold personality in the huge snake and crocodile pieces she commissioned from Cartier Paris. Her 1968 snake necklace, of platinum and white gold, is encrusted with 178.21 carats of diamonds and finished in the mille-gras. 

 Pure shock factor aside, the necklace demonstrates Cartier’s meticulous attention to detail.  When handled, it mimics the slinkiness and weight of a real snake with hundreds of individual sections that are hinged internally.  Its underbelly feels slithery due to gorgeous enameling that also protects the wearer’s neck.

Her 1975 detachable double crocodile necklace features two baby crocs—one of 1,000 yellow diamonds and the other with over 1,000 circular cut emeralds–that wrap around the neck with heads resting at the center of the throat.  As the legend goes, one day in 1975, Félix visited Cartier Paris absolutely unexpectedly.  She did not come alone but had a baby crocodile in a jar with her and requested that Cartier make her a necklace in the shape of the baby reptile and not to dally as it was growing by the day.  In 2006, to pay tribute to Felix and her necklace, Cartier debuted its La Dona de Cartier collection, featuring the La Dona de Cartier watch, crafted in gold with half-moon, reptilian-like links, something on a more affordable scale for the masses.   But, as we all know, the real Cartier, the Cartier of legends, does not cater to the masses.

February 13, 2010 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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