The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism

Gauguin painting: Washerwomen

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903). Washerwomen, Arles 1888. Oil on burlap. The William S. Paley Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

de Young Museum
September 15 to December 30, 2012

San Francisco, CA, July 31, 2012—A selection of major works from The William S. Paley Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, New York will be on view at the de Young September 15 through December 30, 2012.  The Paley Collection is a markedly personal one, reflecting the broad tastes of a singular art collector, rather than one unifying historical period or theme. The work selected for the exhibition, The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism, focuses on the extraordinary French School and School of Paris late 19th and early 20th century artists who, like Paley, helped redefine modernism.

Paley, founder and force at Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), was a leader in communication, entertainment, and broadcast journalism. His innovations in radio programming and advertising, his balanced commitment to entertainment and news dissemination, and his acute awareness of popular trends revolutionized broadcasting’s business model, and set new standards in broadcast journalism. Paley’s professional interest in emerging technology and new media undoubtedly encouraged his personal interest in modernist art.
Despite his professional success and stature, as a son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, Paley was not spared the religious discrimination encountered by many Americans of his generation. While his power as a media titan opened many doors, others remained closed, including those of several prestigious clubs that denied him membership.  Paley’s art patronage, showcased during parties held in his palatial twenty-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, projected an aura of cultural sophistication comparable to that cultivated by New York’s social elite.
As a master of emerging media in his own era, Paley was keenly aware that generous gifts of art to The Museum of Modern Art would help to augment both his public image and his stature as a significant philanthropist.  He was one among the many Jewish collectors and donors who helped to found or shape some of America’s major museums, including the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. 
Paley’s distinguished collection was initially very much a part of his private world, and is often intimate both in scale and in quality. Many of the paintings, sculptures, and drawings provide an individual, contemplative experience with the art. The collection commenced during a trip to Europe in 1933, when Paley acquired his first purchase: Paul Cezanne’s precious Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat (1875—1876), directly from the artist’s son.  Shortly thereafter, he acquired the artist’s L’Estaque (1879—1883).
The selection of Paley’s collection hosted by the de Young is particularly rich in the works of Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, with significant works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Roualt, and Andre Derain. Among the pieces offered are Gauguin’s The Seed of the Areoi (1892) from the artist’s first visit to Tahiti, Degas’ large-scale pastel and charcoal Two Dancers (1905), Picasso’s celebrated monumental painting, Boy Leading a Horse (1905-1906), Derain’s vibrant Fauve painting Bridge over the Riou (1906), and Matisse’s Odalisque with a Tambourine (1925-26).
The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with which Paley was affiliated beginning in 1937. Serving as trustee, chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Committee, president of the Museum, and chairman of the Board, Paley was chairman emeritus from 1985 until his death in October, 1990. 
This exhibition, featuring more than 60 paintings, sculptures, and drawings, represents the accomplishments of many seminal artists, reflects the modern art patronage of a remarkable man, and celebrates his contributions to, as Robert E. Oldenburg, Director Emeritus of The Museum of Modern Art states, the very “fabric of modern life.”
Exhibition Organization
The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism is organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The Major Patron of the exhibition is The Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. The exhibition Patrons are Hanson Bridgett LLP, Andy and Carrick McLaughlin, the Estate of Henry Perin, and Jeanne and Sanford Robertson. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The media sponsor is CBS 5, KPIX-TV. 
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism, published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The volume presents Paley’s complete extraordinary personal collection of eighty-four paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. Each work, displayed on a full page, is accompanied by commentary. 176 pages. Softcover $39.95/$35.96 members. Available in the Museum Store, or online at
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Visiting the de Young Museum
The de Young Museum, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and located in Golden Gate Park, is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the nation’s fourth most visited art museums.  The de Young showcases American art from the seventeenth through the twenty-first centuries, international textile arts and costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.
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