Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Announce Promised Gift of the Bernard and Barbro Osher Collection of American Art

Jul 27, 2023

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Georgia O'Keeffe, Front of Ranchos Church, 1930. Image by Randy Dodson; courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO, July 27, 2023
—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the “Fine Arts Museums”) today announced the promised gift of the Bernard and Barbro Osher Collection of American Art, one of the most transformative donations in the Fine Arts Museums’ distinguished history. The 61 artworks are historically broad and aesthetically significant, and include works by many of the United States’ foremost artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran, Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase, John Singer Sargent, Charles Sheeler, and Alexander Calder. The gift also introduces works by American Impressionist Edward Henry Potthast, multidisciplinary artist Robert Frederick Blum, influential teacher Frank Vincent DuMond, leading Boston School painter William McGregor Paxton, and “Giverny Luminists” Frederick Carl Frieseke and Richard Edward Miller into the collection. Together, these works illustrate the myriad ways American artists have long sought to define and declare American styles and sensibilities. 

"We are profoundly grateful to Barney and Barbro for their enduring commitment to the Fine Arts Museums and the cultural life of San Francisco,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Their generous donation of more than 60 works of such expansive historic scope is one of the most transformative contributions in the Museums’ history. The Oshers have enriched the Museums’ representation of American art — long considered to be one of the greatest survey collections in the United States — with a gift reflective of a dynamic period when the United States ascended to global prominence both culturally and artistically."

“We are delighted that these works that we have relished collecting and displaying in our home will now be appreciated by visitors to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,” stated Bernard and Barbro Osher. “As the largest public arts institution in our city, with the finest survey collection of American art, it is fitting that these artworks will join the collection here.” 

A special exhibition introducing the Osher Collection will be presented at the de Young in the summer of 2024. To coincide with the exhibition opening, the Fine Arts Museums will publish American Beauty: The Osher Collection of American Art, in celebration of the bequest. Authored by Lauren Palmor, Associate Curator of American Art at the Fine Arts Museums, the catalogue will present scholarly essays, contextualizing each of the 61 collection works within the larger frames of American art and social history. 

Distinguished Senior Curator and Ednah Root Curator in Charge of American Art Timothy Anglin Burgard, who shepherded the Osher gift, observed, "The Fine Arts Museums are honored to be a recipient of the Oshers' extraordinary legacy gift. Their collection is distinguished by recurring themes including American artists abroad, American Impressionism, Japonisme, and Aestheticism, the Ashcan School, and the development of American art colonies."

The Osher Collection at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco features 50 paintings, nine works on paper, and two sculptures by 39 artists. Anchored by Impressionist and Realist artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Osher Collection spans 1848 to 1960. Particular highlights from the Osher Collection include Winslow Homer’s masterful The Angler (Casting in the Falls), the first large-scale oil by the artist to enter the permanent collection. The de Young galleries will be further augmented by several significant “firsts” for its American art collection: the first genre picture by William Merritt Chase (Spanish Bric-à-Brac Shop), the first major George Bellows landscape (In Virginia), the first Georgia O’Keeffe Southwest subjects (Front of Ranchos Church, and The Patio), and the first Hiram Powers portrait bust (Frances Elliot Austin).

In addition, several Osher Collection works are closely related to works already in the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings, such as Thomas Eakins’s watercolor Spinning, which shares a subject with Eakins’s earlier spinning composition, The Courtship. Thomas Hovenden's Portrait of Samuel Jones complements and contrasts with the artist's Sunday Morning, which features the same model. Robert Henri’s bravura “O” in Persian Costume, a full-length portrait of his wife, artist Marjorie Organ, corresponds and contrasts with another portrait of her by Henri, Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf (“O” in Black with a Scarf)

About Bernard and Barbro Osher and their support of the Fine Arts Museums
Bernard and Barbro Osher are longstanding supporters of the Fine Arts Museums’ exhibition and education programs, and helped fund the construction of the new Herzog & de Meuron designed de Young building, which opened in 2005. Their generosity is commemorated through the named Bernard and Barbro Osher Wing and the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden.  The Oshers’ gift to the Fine Arts Museums mirrors the ideals of The Bernard Osher Foundation, which seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts. Together, as community leaders and philanthropists, Bernard and Barbro have forged careers inspired by these ideals, as well as the related goals of self-determination, communal development, and lifelong learning. 

American Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The American art collections at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco span four centuries and include more than 5,000 examples of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. These compelling works were created by artists of Indigenous ancestry, early European colonists, forcibly enslaved Africans and their descendants, and immigrants and their succeeding generations. The distinctive visions of these artists represent the multifaceted nature of the American experience, as they have created, borrowed, and adapted an extraordinary range of cultural concepts and visual styles. Reflecting both personal and collective concerns, they have helped shape the evolving definitions of what it means to identify as American. The resulting cross-cultural works distinguish the art created in the United States. The American art collection display at the de Young provides a public forum—a gathering place for people, art, and ideas that have their roots in history, flourish in the present, and will continue to grow in the future. 

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young museum, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor museum, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco, and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States. The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 2005. Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections on view include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art.

Media Contact Helena Nordstrom, Director of Communications,