Exhibitions

Portrait of King George VI—Dedicatee of the Szyk Haggadah

Szyk, Arthur, King George VI, London: 1938. Original watercolor and gouache pain

Arthur Szyk, King George VI, London: 1938. Original watercolor and gouache painting. 7 ½” x 5 ¼”. In original frame with fine French matting. Signed and dated. “Arthur Szyk Pinxit. [Latin: he painted it] London. 1938.”

The Academy Award-nominated film The King’s Speech sheds new light on the life of King George VI. Currently on view in Gallery 1 at the Legion of Honor is a portrait of the king that provides yet another glimpse of the royal.

King George VI was painted by Arthur Szyk in the illuminated style with an intricate, richly designed border pattern and a profusion of traditional iconography representing Great Britain. In this painting, the 43-year-old king is presented in full military uniform before an open window. Behind the window curtain of royal tartan cloth, the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster appear in exquisite miniature. In the upper right corner is a shield representing a composite of the United Kingdom’s symbols. Topped by St. Edward’s crown are: the motto of the Royal Order of the Garter “honi soit qui mal y pense” (evil be to him who evil thinks); the royal motto “Dieu et Mon Droit” (my God and my right); the lion of England and the royal unicorn of Scotland, the royal orb (crown), Scottish lions, and the Irish harp. Within the quarter-inch illuminated border are additional micro-shields with further symbols of the realm, including Scottish thistles, Irish harps and shamrocks.

The Bust in the Bog

Olmec bustOne of the rarest pieces in our Olmec exhibition at the de Young is a carved human bust made of a tropical variety of cedar tree. Over three thousand years old, the bust has survived this long because it was buried at the bottom of a freshwater bog for most of its life.

Archaeologists believe it was placed in the bog, along with thirty-six other busts, by the Olmec as part of a large offering, probably in response to a long-term problem facing the community, such as a flood or drought. The busts were bundled in vegetable mats and buried along with other objects of high value—some of which are also  in the exhibition.

Researchers think the Olmec chose the spring, named El Manatí for a nearby hill and the manatees that were abundant in the area, as a site for important offerings because it represented a culmination of important elements. The Olmec believed water and mountains were imbued with sacred qualities, including fertility, and saw tall hills both as a meeting point between the earth and the sky and as “mansions of the rain god.” The area was also abundant in hematite, an iron-rich red pigment that researchers believe the Olmec associated with blood.

Inspiration: New Works Created after Paintings in the Legion's Collection

In preperation for the exhibition Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave at the Legion of Honor, artist Isabelle de Borchgrave created five new works inspired by paintings in the European paintings collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Selected by de Borchgrave during a summer 2010 visit to the Legion of Honor, the paintings include Anthony van Dyck's Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child (1634), Massimo Stanzione's Woman in Neapolitan Costume (ca. 1635), Konstantin Makovsky's The Russian Bride's Attire (1889), and Jacob-Ferdinand Voet's late 17th-century Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba.

All five of de Borchgrave's life-sized interpretations are on view in the last gallery of the exhibition. After taking in Pulp Fashion on the Legion's lower level, head upstairs to find three of the four paintings. (The portrait of Anna Caffarelli Minuttiba is not on public view, as it's currently being worked on in our conservation studio.)

Marie Claire de Croy and Child

Marie Claire de Croy and Child, 2010
 

Marie Claire de Croy and Child by Van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599–1641), Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child, 1634.
Oil on canvas, 81 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches. 58.43
On view in Gallery 14.

Without Visible Means of Support

Installation of Japanese Books in the Reva and David Logan Gallery of Illustrated Books

Go behind the scenes at the Legion of Honor as paper conservators prepare and install 37 rare Japanese books for the exhibition Aspects of Mount Fuji in Japanese Illustrated Books from the Arthur Tress Collection.

Hokusai, Untitled (Fuji Seen from Above the Waves), [detail] from the book
One Hundred Views of Fuji, 1835. Collection of Arthur Tress.
 

   

Utagawa Hiroshige, Fuji seen through cherry trees, in the book
One Hundred Views of Fuji (Fujimi Hyakuzu), 1859. Collection of Arthur Tress.
 

Not Your Average Picture: Installation of a 17-foot Photograph

Shi Guorui photograph

The Chinese artist Shi Guorui produced this photograph of the Donner Pass by creating a pinhole camera obscura. The photographic method is just like the oatmeal container pinhole camera you might have made in grade school, but on a much larger scale. The artist put a single small hole in the side of an otherwise light-sealed semi-trailer truck.  The light rays passed through this small hole forming an inverted image on a long, curved sheet of sensitized photographic paper.  We were told that the artist meditated during the hours-long exposure time.

At 4 feet 2 inches x 17 feet 2 inches, Donner Pass is one of the largest photographs in the Museums’ collection. Due to its unique size, installation required much advanced planning to come up with a method of hanging that was not only safe for the photograph, but also met the visions of the artist and curators. As the artist preferred the immediacy of the uncovered photograph placed directly on the wall, a tailored system of hinging materials and frame installation methods was devised by the paper conservation laboratory to safely meet this vision.  

After much preparation, the day of installation had arrived.  

Another Wave

The Wave, 2005, by Kay Sekimachi

In 2005, Bay Area artist Kay Sekimachi gifted the museum a seminal work, a miniature book—The Wave. The Wave comes from her series of accordion books that were inspired by the Japanese artist Hokusai prints from his own series Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. Woven in natural linen, Sekimachi used a painted-warp technique to imprint the repetitive pattern of the wave on the book’s covers and pages and a double-weave technique to create the accordion folds. The meditative quality of Sekimachi’s work belies the complexity of her techniques. Her work reflects a combination of influences— from the Japanese aesthetic comes her purity of form and reverence of nature and from her early Bauhaus training the control of geometry and symmetry, as well as, the exploration of the double-weave technique. 

Jill D'Alessandro, Curator, Textile Arts

New Acquisition on View: The Absinthe Drinkers by Jean-François Raffaëlli

The Absinthe Drinkers, 1881Visitors to the exhibition Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay can get a look at one of the Fine Arts Museum's newest acquisitions, The Absinthe Drinkers (Les buveurs d'absinthe), 1881, by Jean-François Raffaëlli (French, 1850–1924). The Absinthe Drinkers is widely regarded as among Raffaëlli's most important and accomplished paintings. It can be viewed at the entrance to Birth of Impressionism this summer, but will eventually take up permanent residence in the Legion of Honor's gallery 19.

Although not counted among the Impressionists, the Realist Raffaëlli nonetheless exhibited The Absinthe Drinkers (at the invitation of Degas, who sought to increase the number of figural painters involved) at the sixth Impressionist group show in 1881.There it caused a sensation due to its gritty imagery and portrayal of the devastating effects of addiction to the potent drink absinthe.

John Buchanan and Guy Cogeval Discuss Birth of Impressionism on Forum

John Buchanan and Guy Cogeval

Yesterday morning FAMSF director John Buchanan and Musée d'Orsay president Guy Cogeval discussed the exhibition Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay, which opens at the de Young Museum tomorrow, May 22, 2010.

In case you missed what some commenters are calling "the best Forum episode ever", you can stil listen online. In fact, we've embedded it in this very blog post! You can access it after the jump.

Birth of Impressionism runs through September 6, 2010. Later on that month, the de Young will host a follow-up show, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay. That exhibition opens September 26 and runs through January 18, 2010.

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