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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Five things you probably don’t know about the Legion of Honor’s “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters”

John Everett Millais’ “Mariana,” 1851, one of the most beloved paintings in London’s Tate Gallery is now on display at the Legion of Honor, the first time the painting has been on the West Coast.  Painted in a glorious jewel-tone palette and bursting with references to nature, “Mariana” exemplifies the aim of the early Pre-Raphaelites to be completely modern by rejecting the contemporary art of their time and going back to the stylistic, symbolic and aesthetic elements of early Netherlandish painters, particularly Jan van Eyck.  Curator Melissa Buron has paired “Mariana” with van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” (c. 1434/1436) from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, also making its West Coast debut.  Photo: FAMSF

The Legion of Honor has pulled off a major coup with its ravishing summer show, “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters,” which ends September 30.   This is the first major international exhibition to bring together several of the world’s most beloved of Pre-Raphaelite works and pair them with the medieval and Renaissance masterpieces that inspired them.   Melissa Buron, FAMSF’s Art Division Director, with the support of (soon departing) FAMSF Director Max Hollein, was able to secure over 30 important international loans from 25 private collections and museums to bring Britain’s gem Pre-Raphaelite paintings and masterworks from Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, and Paolo Veronese, as well as northern Renaissance painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.  There are 111 sumptuous paintings and objects on display that will most likely never been seen together again.

The exhibit focuses on three of the seven founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), all young art students at London’s Royal Academy in 1848—William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti—and traces their influences and protégées into the 20th century.  Fed up with the art of their time, the PRB took an active stance against the “Raphaelites,” the followers and imitators of Raphael who they believed regurgitated past methods without giving them new energy or significance.  Drawing on literary sources, poetry, and scenes from medieval and modern life, the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) established themselves as the most radical contemporary artists of the Victorian period by creating an aesthetic dialogue with art and artists from past centuries, from early Italian art to genres and materials as varied as medieval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass.  Their commitment was noble but their aims were vague and contradictory which is a likely outcome from a group of young 20 something’s who sought to modernize art by reviving the practices of the Middle Ages.

The show has been widely reviewed, but ARThound brings you five facts about this exquisite exhibit to enliven your experience—

Inspiration for the exhibit:

Melissa Buron, FAMSF Director, Art Division in front of William Holman Hunt’s “Lady of Shalot” (1890-1905), an “exceptional loan” from the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Connecticut because it is so large and very beloved.   Photo: Geneva Anderson

FAMSF’s Melissa Buron is respected internationally as a leading expert on the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) and the Victorian era.  Her love of the PRs began when she was a little girl and first read Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalot.”  Through this, she was introduced to PR images, which began to live in her imagination, and she has studied them most of her life.   The idea of pairing PRs with old masters came about shortly after Max Hollein came on as FAMSF director and exemplifies the support he has given his curatorial team during his short stay in San Francisco.

“It was incredibly exciting when Max told us that he wanted to empower curators to work on projects that were exciting to us,” said Buron.  “He was interested in ambitious ideas that were focused around masterpieces in our collection and that also brought great old master paintings to San Francisco.  As a Victorianist, this was a Eureka moment for me.  For the past decade, I had been here in San Francisco trying to explain the PRs with our second generation Stanhope by explaining that he lived in Florence and was under the spell of Botticelli.  This was 30 years into the PR movement and it was a challenge, explaining his complicated name (John Roddam Spencer Stanhope) and the significance of this rebellious group of artists.  I proposed this to Max and he said, ‘This is a good idea; we’re going to do this.’ He was always there to help with loan negotiations and back me up.  It’s been incredible to have that kind of support.”

Buron’s enthusiasm for Stanhope’s vivid masterpiece, on loan from the Wadsworth in Hartford, led her to place it prominently in the final gallery.  Swirling with energy, the painting depicts the Lady of Shalot, who has been shut away in a tower, being struck by the curse. The stanza of Tennyson’s poem in which the curse is unleashed long fascinated Hunt.  The PRs so admired Tennyson that he was placed on their 1848 list of immortals, implying that his work was to be studied and emulated.  Adjacent to this masterpiece, echoing several themes in the painting, is one of the Legion’s rarely seen treasures—an enormous 16th century wool and silk tapestry from Belgium, “The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” the seventh panel in the Redemption of Man series.  Click here for info on the tapestry’s symbolism.

“The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” from The Redemption of Man series, ca. 1500-1515, wool and silk tapestry weave, (164 x 314 inches) FAMSF. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Botticelli!

Sandro Botticelli’s “Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as Nymph),” from Städel Museum Frankfurt, ca 1475. The famously beautiful Italian noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci, was Botticelli’s muse and the reputed model for his “The Birth of Venus.”  She represented a captivating subject for the PRB circle as an expression of pure beauty.  Photo: FAMSF

Buron’s first two big asks —Millais’ “Mariana” from London’s Tate Gallery and van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” from the National Gallery in Washington—were turned down.  (She persisted and got them later.)  Sandro Botticelli’s beloved “Simoneta” from Frankfurt’s Städel Museum was the first confirmed painting for the exhibition. “Within 48 hours, they answered back in support of our project,” said Buron.  In homage to that, Simonetta is on the back cover of the catalogue.  The gallery “Botticelli and the Tempura Revival” brings together six stunning Botticelli’s and two Cesare Mariannecci’s after famous Botticelli’s.

 

A revelation about the Legion’s Stanhope

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s “Love and the Maiden,” from 1877, has echoes of Jan van Eyck’s “The Annunciation,” where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her she will bear the son of God.  It also illustrates Stanhope’s interest in Botticelli. The figures and landscape are painted with a wonderful sense of color and clarity— delicate flowers, feathery angel’s wings, and the intensity of the two main figures’ expressions. The circle of dancers in the background—three women and a man together, holding hands—are possibly referencing figures that come from Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or “Spring.” FAMSF, Photo: FAMSF

The exhibition gave the curatorial team an opportunity to sample and study the pigments in the Legion’s beloved Stanhope, “Love and the Maiden,” which was always assumed to be a tempura work.  “It was sent to Wintertur in Delaware and we were shocked to learn that there was no evidence of egg as a binding agent and that our painting was actually in oil,” said Buron.  “This in no way impacts the value or significance of this painting but, for us, this was a major revelation.”  The painting can be found in the gallery devoted to the tempura revival.

Uffizi on board!

Max Hollein, FAMSF’s Director and CEO, admires Raphael’s self-portrait, ca 1504-1506, the first painting that Florence’s Uffizi gallery has ever loaned FAMSF.   Hollein, appointed in July 2016, will soon depart for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where in September he will become its new director.  Hollein has long championed putting contemporary works of art in dialogue with the older pieces that inspired them.  In 2012, when he ran Frankfurt’s Liebieghause Museum, he placed Jeff Koons alongside ancient works from the collection to rave reviews.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rafael’s self-portrait has been at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1682 and is the Legion of Honor’s first loan from the esteemed museum.  Hopefully, more exchanges will follow.  Rafael painted this self-portrait when he was just 22 but already a rising star in the Renaissance art world.  His outward gaze suggests that his mind is occupied with higher matters, an important character trait for artists who needed to grapple with complex philosophical and literary themes in their work to succeed.  In 1848, when the PRB was just forming, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti penned a “list of Immortals” and Raphael’s name was placed alongside Jesus Christ. His work had the quality of authenticity that the PRs found so inspiring.

Frames as extensions of Paintings

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The PRs were inspired to create works of art that were total works of art that extended beyond the edges of the canvasses to the details of their frames as well.  The lush golden frame for Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “La Pia (La Pia de’ Tolmei)” was designed by Rossetti with raised carved medallions and a translation of the cantos “Purgatorio” from Dante Alighieri’s early 14th century poem, “Divine Comedy.”  The painting was created during the beginning of Rossetti’s affair with Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris.  Jane is depicted as the imprisoned Pia from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”   The painting is rich in symbolism which includes flying rooks (omens of death), a sundial (to pass the time) and Jane (as La Pia) fingers her wedding ring, the bauble given to her by her husband who trapped and imprisoned her.  Another stunning Rosetti on display his “Beata Beatrix” (1871-72), which drew a parallel between Dante’s despair over Beatrice’s death and Rossetti’s mourning of own his wife’s death.  The composition features both women in separate panels and a gilt frame with carved medallions.

 

Details:

“Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters” ends September 30, 2018 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.  Tickets: $28 general admission; $25 (65 and older); $19 students; $13 (6-17).  Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.  Closed Mondays.  For more info, visit: www.famsf.org

 

 

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August 31, 2018 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

FAMSF ancient art curator, Renée Dreyfus, speaks Thursday, June 12, 2014, at the de Young on “Masters of Fire: The Copper Age in the Holy Land”

Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about “Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land,” the exhibition which opens June 28, 2014 at the Legion of Honor.  Curator lectures, which provide insight into exhibition conception and artifacts, are a wonderful way to get the most out of an exhibition.

Renée Dreyfus, FAMSF curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about “Masters of Fire: The Copper Age in the Holy Land,” the exhibition which opens June 28, 2014 at the Legion of Honor. Curator lectures provide insight into exhibition conception and artifacts and are a wonderful way to get the most out of an exhibition. Image: Hedgehog Highlights

Renée Dreyfus, curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) will speak at the de Young Museum on Thursday, June 12, at 1 PM about Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land, the exhibition which opens June 28 at the Legion of Honor.   Dreyfus, who always has lots of historical information readily at hand, will speak about artifacts that especially intrigue her and will set the stage for the anitquities that arrive later this month.  If you do go, check the front rows for Colin Bailey, the new FAMSF director (he celebrates one year at the helm this month).  He’s been at the several of the recent talks I’ve attended and it’s a pleasure to see him supporting and motivating museum staff and visiting scholars by engaging with their scholarship.

In 1961, Israeli archaeologists discovered over 400 copper objects wrapped in a straw mat at Naḥal Mishmar (West of the Dead Sea) hidden in a natural crevice that would be called the “Cave of the Treasure.”  One of the greatest hoards of antiquity, these objects were so spectacular that they define an important era in Southern Levantine (modern-day Israel and surrounding lands) history now called the Chalcolithic (copper-stone) or Copper Age (5500–3500 BC).

Masters of Fire is the first comprehensive U.S. exhibition that explores the metallurgical revolution that produced these objects and how this led to significant changes in the technology, ritual, and especially the lifestyles of the Levant.  The exhibition is organized by NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) and the Israel Antiquities Authority in collaboration with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

“The copper crowns and maces, or standards, found here testify to the amazing technical skill of the ancient smiths and artists who already knew the lost-wax process of casting,” said Renée Dreyfus who will address unknownswhether or not the people who created these objects considered them as arts or ritual objects.  “Of the 80 copper standards found in the Cave of the Treasure, no two are identical, proving that each was cast separately in an individual mold.  This astonishing hoard of 429 remarkable objects also reveals the growth of prestige, status, and social rank.”

Dating to more than a millennium before the pyramids of Egypt were built, the treasures in the Legion of Honor’s upcoming exhibition “Masters of Fire” come from a brief transformative moment.  They were made in the southern Levant, a region known today as Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and their surrounding areas, which was at the forefront of human development from 4500–3600 BC.  Pictured: ritual hoard of copper objects from the Cave of the Treasure, Nahal Mishmar, present-day Israel, Late Chalcolithic period (4500–3500 BC). Copper.  Israel Museum, Jerusalem.  Photo: courtesy FAMSF

Copper objects from the Cave of the Treasure, hoard Nahal Mishmar, Late Chalcolithic period, 4500–3600 BC. Copper, lost wax technique. Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Museum. Photo: courtesy FAMSF

“The term “Copper Revolution” has been used by scholars to describe the changes in social organization that occurred at this time,” continued Dreyfus. “Archaeologists have tracked the fragments of ore that were mined in Jordan and traced how they were carried almost one hundred miles into southern Israel to be crushed, repeatedly heated, and carefully smelted into small ingots.  Once the copper was extracted, it was heated again and cast in open molds to make simple tools or weapons.  However, the extraordinary discoveries in the Cave of the Treasure at Nahal Mishmar represent a very different path in metallurgy.  The copper objects found there were made using the complicated lost-wax casting technique.  These works are far more elaborate than any other copper creations known from this period.  Whatever the original source of this hoard—whether a major religious or political center—the intricate scepters, crowns, and other copper objects must have been the accouterments of an elaborate ceremonial display.  The Copper Age is therefore an early example of a society in which the ruling elite could afford prestige objects that were produced as symbols of its power.”

Originally from New York City, Dreyfus is a celebrated curator of ancient art. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in philosophy.  She then went on to Brandeis University to receive her M.A. in Ancient Mediterranean Studies and finished her doctorate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley.  She speaks several ancient languages, is very active in the FAMSF’s Ancient Arts Council.  She was recently appointed to the newly formed visiting committee of the J. Paul Getty Museum that appraises the J. Paul Getty Trust  on the museum.  Some of Dreyfus’ publications include: deYoung: Selected Works (2006);  Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) co-authored with Catharine H. Roehrig, and Cathleen A. Keller (2005); Pergamon: The Telephos Frieze from the Great Altar, Volume 2 (1997) co-authored with Ellen Schraudolph; California Palace of the Legion of Honor (1995); The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1994) co-authored with Melissa Leventon.

Details: Talk by Renée Dreyfus is Thursday, June 12, 1 PM at the Koret Auditorium at the de Young Museum.  Tickets are $3 members, $4 non-members. No advance purchase or reservations required.  It is not necessary to have an entry ticket to the de Young to attend the lecture. If you would like to enter the de Young Museum, tickets are $10 adults, $7 seniors, FAMSF members free. Tickets to Modernism from the National Gallery of Art are $24 to $11 for non-members and free for FAMSF members. The exhibition, Masters of Fire:  The Copper Age in the Holy Land  is June 28, 2014-January 4, 2105 at the Legion of Honor.

Directions/Parking: The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, at John F. Kennedy Drive, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.  Enter Golden Gate Park (JFK Drive side) at 8th Avenue for 4 hour free street parking.  For direct access to the Music Concourse Parking facility, turn right on Fulton and then left on 10th Avenue.

June 10, 2014 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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