Motivated by three important acquisitions, the curators of European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts have recently modified the presentation of works in Gallery 7 at the Legion of Honor, which features French and Italian Baroque and Rococo art. Colin B. Bailey, the Museums’ newly appointed director and an internationally respected art historian and curator specializing in 18th- and 19th-century French art, provided essential oversight and assistance with the project. The acquisitions include François Boucher’s Woman with a Cat: Dangerous Caresses (ca. 1731–1735) and two paintings given by generous bequest from the estate of Diana Dollar Knowles, Giovanni Paolo Panini’s Ruins with Prophet and Ruins with Sibyl (both 1731). Boucher’s work was painted shortly after a three-year stay in Italy and is one of the earliest examples that demonstrate his skillful rendering the female form, while the two paintings by Panini are the first of this artist’s oeuvre to enter the Legion’s collection.
It is rare to completely reinstall a gallery, but doing so encourages new interpretations of the relationships between works, or better illustrates a common theme. Many of the changed details—including new paint color, adjustments in layout, and removal of many of the pedestals on which the furniture was placed—seem simple, but the outcome is grand in appearance and offers an entirely refreshed viewing experience. The gallery now lends deeper insight into the cultural interactions and artistic developments within and between France and Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries. It also offers visitors an opportunity to interact more intimately with the works, which are now placed in a refined context and scale that more closely resembles their original presentation.
The core of the original Legion’s collection was amassed by Adolf B. and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, whose particular collecting focus was 18th- and 19th-century French art. The museum opened in 1924 with a collection primarily dedicated to French painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. Over the past century, the collection has expanded to encompass over 4,000 years of ancient and European art. This reinstallation highlights the Legion’s foundational roots in European art and represents the first effort in nearly 20 years to revitalize the gallery.