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2nd September 2010

A Day of Culture with the Impressionists

De Young Museum
    I made my way across to the Golden Gate Park this morning using the very efficient and cost effective public transport system. The one ticket could be used to make umpteen transfers on street cars and trolley buses within a certain number of hours time span. The same ticket also allowed me a discount when I entered the de Young Museum.
    The de Young Museum was founded in 1895 and had been an integral part of the Golden Gate Park. However, in 1989, the building suffered irreparable damage from an earthquake, and the old building closed to make way for a new seismically stable one. The landmark building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects, Herzog & de Meuron, was opened in 2005. The whole building dramatically integrated art, architecture and nature.
    The de Young's permanent collection comprised: art in America to the 20th century, 20th century and contemporary art, art of the Americas, native American art, art of Africa, art of Oceania and textiles. The special exhibition that I wanted to see today was The Birth of Impressionism - Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay. Because the Musee D'Orsay in Paris was closed for renovations, and the de Young had strong connections with its French counterpart, the rare opportunity to display these works in San Francisco was made possible.
Safety Pin
Cafe Garden with Sculptures
    The exhibit was particularly strong in academic 19th century French painting, with a lot of new names in addition to the well known Impressionist painters. Far from an Impressionist catalogue, this was a show about the context, genesis and evolution of what was so aptly called in its time the "New Painting." The premise had been an attempt to show the artistic community as the Impressionists knew it. It was in the official exhibitions that famous and still-aspiring artists vied for recognition, staking their claims for fame, fortune and posterity. This struggle for validation ran like a leitmotif through the lives of all French painters, but for the Impressionists it was an especially contentious issue, often conflicting with their desire to exhibit as an independent group. Impressionism was a resolute intruder.
California Academy Of Sciences and Music Concourse from De Young Tower
    The exhibition did what it said it would do; show the struggle these young upstarts faced trying to introduce new directions in art, and their dogged determination to fight on and win acceptance in the salons. Rather than catalogue Impressionist paintings, it laid bare another facet of the history of Impressionism. I visited the Tate Gallery a few years back for a Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition, and that too had its own facet of a chronological thread of influences between the artists. For me, such exhibitions bring more life to the art under the spotlight. Of all the art movements, Impressionism was my favourite by far.
Conservatory of Flowers
    I took in the rest of the gallery, and also took a lift up to the observation deck of the de Young Tower. This afforded the opportunity to view a 360 degree panorama of the west end of the city and half San Francisco. Outside the gallery cafe was a garden containing sculptures. What set these off nicely was a group of trees behind them, just starting to take on autumnal colours.
    All in all, I had really enjoyed my trip to the museum. Indeed, when I checked my watch, I had spent over 5 hours there.
    I left the museum spiritually uplifted, and walked across the park to the Conservatory of Flowers. This was the oldest existing public conservatory in the western hemisphere. It was also the oldest structure in Golden Gate Park. The building originally came in wooden crates. James Lick, a San Jose real estate magnate, purchased the conservatory as a kit. However, he died before it could be built. In 1877, 27 San Franciscan businessmen purchased the kit and donated it to Golden Gate Park. The conservatory opened in 1879, and was filled with a wide variety of rare, tropical plants.
A Selection of Flowers in the Conservatory
    The conservatory included different climate environments in order to display: aquatic plants, lowland tropics, highland tropics, potted plants and a special exhibition on carnivorous plants. The range of colours exhibited by the plants, their ingenuity at clinging on to life in seemingly impossible conditions, or their varied means of capturing insects, and their diversity never ceased to amaze me. I could quite easily have used all the memory up in my camera taking picture of flowers and orchids.
    Sadly the conservatory was about to close, so I took the hint and left, and found my way back to Fisherman's Wharf which was an easy walk away from the hotel. I knew there were three galleries close to each other on the walk back from the wharf, so, being a glutton for punishment, I visited all three. These were up-market galleries, with prices ranging from $4k - $50k. I talked to the assistants, one of whom seemed to know nothing about the Grand Masters, but didn't linger when they started talking about shipping costs across to the UK. Gulp!
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Uploaded from Francisco Bay Inn, 1501 Lombard Street, San Francisco CA on 03/09/10 at 01:15

Last updated 3.9.2010