Impressionist Paris: City of Light at the Legion of Honor

Dec 1, 2009

Elephant with Eiffel Tower in background.

Peter Dubreuil, Eléphantaisie, 1908. Gelatin Silver Toned matte-surface printing-out print, 9 3/4 x 7 11/16 in. (24.7 x 19.5 cm). Museum purchase, Prints and Drawings Art Trust Fund, 2009.29. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

San Francisco, California, December 2009—Concurrent with the Musée d’Orsay masterpiece exhibition at the de Young Museum is Impressionist Paris: City of Light at the Legion of Honor from June 5 to September 26, 2010. Visitors to the exhibition will be transported to Impressionist Paris as represented in more than 180 prints, drawings, photographs, paintings, and illustrated books dating from 1850 to the early 1900s from the outstanding permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, as well as several distinguished private collections. “This exhibition gives us a special opportunity to show off some of the Fine Arts Museums’ greatest treasures from its holdings of 19th-century French works on paper, including an outstanding group of new acquisitions that will be shown here for the first time,” says exhibition curator James A. Ganz. “It is conceived as a journey from the dark alleys of ‘Old Paris,’ at the dawn of the Impressionist era, to a world of color and light, culminating in a gallery of vibrant French posters from the turn of the 20th century.”

La ville lumière—“the City of Light”: Paris earned this nickname during the 19th century with the proliferation of gas lamps that lit up the French capital, turning night into day and boosting its economic vitality. Moreover, the radiance of the metropolis transcended the glow of its streetlights as Paris ascended to its role as the cultural capital of Europe. Authors, composers, and especially visual artists—painters, photographers, printmakers, and sculptors—thrived in this dazzling setting. Impressionist Paris explores various aspects of life in and around the city in which these artists came of age.

Passing through the shadows of the medieval city to reach the colorful spectacle of the Grand Boulevards, Impressionist Paris: City of Light explores various aspects of Parisian society and the French art world from roughly 1850 to the turn of the 20th century. Picturesque views of the narrow streets and stone bridges of old Paris by Charles Marville, Charles Meryon, and Johan Barthold Jongkind give way to colorful images of modern Parisian life, with Edgar Degas, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Georges Seurat offering public and private views of the bustling metropolis. Prints and periodicals featuring the work of Honoré Daumier, Edouard Manet, Paul Signac, and James Tissot convey key historical events and underscore the emergent role of illustrated art journalism. A gallery of black-and-white works on paper by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, and Paul Gauguin reveal another side of the exhibition. The spectacle of modern life is conveyed through galleries devoted to popular entertainment in late 19th-century Paris, including colorful images of the theater, café-concerts, circus, as well as the Expositions Universelles. The exhibition concludes in a blaze of color with a selection of posters of the turn of the 20th century by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret, Théophile Steinlen, and Alphonse Mucha.

Pyramid Skylight
During an expansion of the Legion of Honor from 1992–95, new special exhibition galleries were built, including Rosekrans Court, and a glass pyramid skylight was installed above them in the museum’s Court of Honor. The pyramid is evocative of the I.M. Pei-designed pyramid in the central courtyard of the Louvre (completed in 1989). In keeping with one of the main themes of Impressionist Paris—light—the skylight is opened for the first time in over a decade, leading visitors into Rosekrans Court and the main entrance of the exhibition. Rosekrans Court will be installed with plants, garden statuary, and benches.

Exhibition curator James A. Ganz penned a beautiful, fully illustrated catalogue titled Impressionist Paris: City of Light that includes 100 images from the exhibition. (hardcover 156 pages, $29.95). The catalogue will be available in the special exhibition Museum Store.

Curator James A. Ganz presents the lecture “Culture Clash: The Elephant and the Eiffel Tower” on Saturday, June 26 at 2:00 p.m. Sunday live chamber music performances are scheduled for July 18, August 1, and August 15 from noon to 2:00 p.m. The chamber musical selections reflect the Impressionist era and are presented in partnership with San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music and Classical Revolution.

Impressionist Paris is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco under the curatorial direction of James A. Ganz, curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. The Presenting Sponsor is Bank of the West, the Lead Sponsor is Boucheron, and the Sponsor is GOODBYES.

Visiting the Legion of Honor during Impressionist Paris
The Legion of Honor is supporting Impressionist Paris with a special exhibition store and a French bistro menu in the Café, including brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and weekend afternoon organ concerts.

The Legion of Honor displays a collection spanning more than 4,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassical building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121

Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm; closed on Monday.

$10 adults; $7 seniors; $6 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D. Members and children 12 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.

Group Sales:
For adult groups of 10 or more contact