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August 22, 2013

Sunflowers Along the Seine

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have received a generous bequest of three paintings from the estate of Diana Dollar Knowles: Sunflowers along the Seine (ca. 1885–1886), by Gustave Caillebotte, and Ruins with Prophet and Ruins with Sibyl (both 1731), by Giovanni Paolo Panini. These additions represent the first examples of each artist’s work to enter the collection of the Fine Arts Museums.

Sunflowers along the Seine—currently on view in the exhibition Impressionists on the Water, at the Legion of Honor through October 13—is a dynamic composition in which a frieze of golden sunflowers dwarfs a view of sparkling water with a floating, white pavilion moored at the riverbank in the distance. An accomplished sailor and boat designer, Caillebotte purchased a home along the Seine, at Petit-Gennevilliers, near Argenteuil, a popular destination for regattas. The flowers, which feature prominently in this depiction, and the lively color palette he used for this subject, suggest his passion for the garden that he cultivated there. Caillebotte often used his garden for painting en plein air to capture the effects of radiant daylight, which are conveyed here in rhythmic brushwork across the water’s surface.

Panini spent his career in Rome and became famous for his depictions of that city. Ruins with Prophet and Ruins with Sibyl are both architectural fantasies, known as capricci, and are displayed in their original, hand-carved, Venetian frames. The works reflect the 18th-century taste for antiquity and picturesque ruins and depict the remains of classical buildings, which the artist embellished with figures and animals. Panini received his early training from painters of theatrical scenery, which served him well in these detailed, illusionistic views. This type of cabinet picture, so called for its small size, was popular with an international clientele of collectors, including those making the Grand Tour across Italy.

Panini Ruins with Sybil

Panini Ruins with Prophet

Diana Dollar Knowles was a generous supporter of the Museums and a trustee from 1986 to 1997. A passionate interest in fashion inspired her and her husband, Gorham B. Knowles, to give a significant donation in support of the textile arts galleries at the new de Young, where a room is named for them. The Louis XV period room at the Legion of Honor is also named for them in recognition of a prior contribution. Mrs. Knowles was also an important patron of the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Ballet, Grace Cathedral, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.