The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon

San Francisco, August 2008—An outstanding collection of the treasures of the State Museums of Berlin that honors the contributions of patron James Simon debuts at the Legion of Honor this October. The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon is a case study of the history of collecting during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and features approximately 150 works from nine separate Berlin museums. This exhibition includes Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, Old Master paintings, works on paper including eighteenth and nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock prints, art of the Silk Road, and European folk art donated by Simon for the State Museums of Berlin. The exhibition opens on October 18, 2008, and runs through January 18, 2009, and will return for exhibition at the State Museums of Berlin after its tenure in San Francisco.

James Simon (1851–1932), a German Jew, was a patron of the arts, connoisseur, collector and philanthropist best known for his sponsorship of excavations in Egypt, the Near East, and Central Asia that brought great riches from the ancient world to Berlin including the bust of Nefertiti and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and its Processional Way. Dedicating his life to public welfare, Simon displayed a remarkable social commitment and created an extraordinary cultural legacy. His gift of thousands of items to the State Museums of Berlin identified him as one of Berlin’s most important patrons and elevated Berlin to the ranks of museum capitals such as London, Paris, and Vienna. His support of archaeological excavations, including the Amarna and Mesopotamia expeditions, helped to preserve some of the most rare and important objects from antiquity. “When one realizes the extent of James Simon’s gifts and his foresight in saving the art of the past, it is hard to believe this is all the result of one individual,” says Renee Dreyfus, curator-in-charge of ancient art and interpretation for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The Exhibition
The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon fills six galleries in the special exhibition galleries at the Legion of Honor with a varied collection of treasures from the Renaissance, ancient cultures and the Silk Road. Among the highlights are:

  • Bust of Queen Tiy—a major work from the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt, this sculpture of carved yew wood with a gold and silver headpiece features the countenance of a middle-aged woman conscious of the power she wields as mother of Pharaoh Akhenaten.
  • Restored Lion Relief from the Processional Way in Babylon—restored from the thousands of glazed brick fragments found during the ambitious Babylon excavations in the 1920s sponsored by Simon, this sixth-century B.C. panel crafted during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II was one of 100 sacred Lions of Ishtar that decorated the Processional Way leading to the massive Ishtar Gate, entrance to the fortress of ancient Babylon. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are funding the restoration of this piece.
  • Third-century A.D. gold medallion with a portrait of Alexander the Great—part of a sensational cache of treasure located northeast of Alexandria in 1902, this medallion portrays the noble visage of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.) as an invincible war hero holding a spear and shield.
  • The Virgin with the Sleeping Child by Andrea Mantegna—cited as the most important painter of the Venetian Quattrocento, Andrea Mantegna’s painting was inspired by the terracotta reliefs of Donatello and depicts the epitome of motherly tenderness as the Madonna gracefully cradles her sleeping infant.
  • Two della Robbia tondi of St. Gregory and St. Ambrose—dating from the fifteenth century and originally part of a four-piece ensemble showcasing the Latin Church Fathers. Sculpted by Florentine artist Andrea della Robbia, these two works are paired with a masterpiece by his uncle, Luca della Robbia.
  • The Priest Nichiren in the Snow on Sado Island, from the Life History of Nichiren Series, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi—the majority of James Simon’s Eastern art collection was lost at the end of World War II. Happily, the collection of Ukiyo-e was saved and remains in Berlin. This woodblock print, circa 1831, reveals Kuniyoshi’s brilliant sense of color and design and is one of a series of ten prints created in honor of activist priest Nichiren.

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in partnership with the State Museums of Berlin and is supported by the San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums, Ann and Tim Simon, and the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, San Francisco. Northern Trust is the Opening Night Sponsor. Lufthansa German Airlines is the official airline of the exhibition.

Visiting \ Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor displays a collection of over 4,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a Beaux-Arts style 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.

$20 adults; $17 seniors; $16 youths 13–17 and students with college I.D. Members and children 12 and under are free. $10 special exhibition surcharge included in the pricing above.

General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month. ($10 special exhibition surcharge still applies.) $10 admission for permanent collection only.