European painting Monet's Waterlilies

Claude Monet, Water Lilies (detail), ca. 1914-1917. Oil on canvas, 65 3/8 x 56 in. Museum purchase, Mildred Anna Williams Collection, 1973.3

About European paintings

Our European paintings are presented in two suites of Beaux-Arts galleries at the Legion of Honor. This collection of more than 800 pictures includes masterpieces from the 14th to the mid-20th century, offering a survey of European artistic achievement from Fra Angelico to Claude Monet. The collection’s greatest strengths are 18th-century French painting (with superb examples by Watteau, Fragonard, Oudry, and David), 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting (with masterworks by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Ruysdael), and the Italian Renaissance (with magnificent gold ground pictures, two 16th-century altarpieces, and a portrait by Titian).

Originally divided between the Legion of Honor, founded by Adolph B. and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, and the de Young Museum, founded by M.H. de Young, the European paintings collection reflects the early history of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The founders’ interest in 19th-century French art is reflected today in strong holdings in Barbizon painting and academic art, but the fundamental character of the collection was determined by two pairs of collectors who began giving in the 1940s and 1950s. Henry K. S. and Mildred Anna Williams donated a collection of nearly 100 pictures to the Legion in 1940, supplementing this gift with a purchase fund used to build the 18th-century French collection and acquire the majority of the Impressionist works on view today.  Roscoe and Margaret Oakes amassed an important collection of old master paintings, with particular depth in Dutch and Flemish works of the 17th century and British paintings of the 18th; these were donated to the de Young — along with a substantial purchase fund — starting in the 1950s. 

A third foundational gift arrived in 1961: the Samuel H. Kress Collection transformed the Museums’ early Italian holdings, adding works by Lorenzo di Niccolo, Bernardo Daddi, Cesare da Sesto, Titian, and El Greco, along with later works by de Hooch, Claude Lorrain, Tiepolo, and Goya. In 1969, a memorial gift of 56 pictures by Dr. T. Edward and Tullah Hanley enriched the collection with works by Courbet, Manet, and Matisse. Subsequent gifts from Whitney Warren, Dora and John Jay Ide, the Magnin family, the Postley family, and the Zankel and West Family Trusts, among others, have built on this foundation. Our collection continues to grow and expand through gifts and purchases, including recently acquired works by Caillebotte, Linard, La Hyre, and Vuillard, as well as Psyche Bidding Her Family Farewell by the pathbreaking 18th-century female artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist.