Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Review – David Hockney, Bulgari, Anders Zorn, Henri Matisse and more

One of the special experiences I enjoy during annual winter visits to the Bay Area is the chance to visit the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. This year the special exhibitions are spectacular.  My husband and I joined friends who are members of the de Young Museum and, fortunately, were able to see several amazing exhibitions, which will be leaving soon.  Our group loved the David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition and Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter, though different from one another, absolutely compelling, fascinating and a joy to view. The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond 1950–1990 isdazzling, while Matisse from SFMOMA is small and charming. Go soon and allow enough time (about three hours) to enjoy these wonderful offerings.


David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition was assembled by Hockney exclusively for the de Young. The exhibition is huge; spread over two floors with more than 300 works shown in 18,000 square feet of gallery space, making this the largest exhibition in the history of the museum.


The range and scope of the exhibition that included watercolors, charcoals, oil paintings, a fascinating, movie and more were compelling. The feel good aspects of most of the works made this exhibition not only fascinating and amazing but very uplifting. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is the first to exhibit and publish The Arrival of Spring in 2013 (twenty thirteen which consists of 25 charcoal drawings, finished in May, 2013, and has been described by Hockney as capturing “the bleakness of the winter and its exciting transformation to the summer.”


We were awed by some of Hockney’s grand works, both their size and concept, such as The Bigger Message, his 30-canvas re-working of Claude Lorrain’s The Sermon on the Mount. Hockney's most recent portraits—done in charcoal—are here, exhibited and published for the first time.  Be sure to see the exhibition’s “Cubist movies” that are made using as many as 18 separate digital cameras, mounted on a grid and recording the action simultaneously, resulting in a movie with as many as 18 perspectives. In making them, Hockney has addressed a challenge first taken up by Picasso: How to display multiple perspectives in one work of art.  Nearby was his wall of photos of paintings that span 400 years.



Hockney’s use of a wide variety of tools and media was clearly demonstrated in works ranging from simple pencil drawings on paper, to Bigger Yosemite, five drawings created on the iPad that capture the majesty of the American West. “Like an artist alchemist, in one minute Hockney uses a fancy digital device to make a colorful iPad drawing; in the next he shows us that he is one of our greatest draftsmen by rendering an exactingly detailed charcoal drawing of a forest scene in East Yorkshire,” notes Richard Benefield, deputy director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and organizer of the exhibition.  This is a not to be missed exhibition so go before January 20, 2014.


While visiting the de Young Museum we chose to see The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond 1950–1990, an exhibition of approximately 150 pieces created by the renowned Italian jeweler over four decades. The exhibition highlights jewelry that defined a pivotal period in Italian design, and includes pieces from the personal collection of Elizabeth Taylor.

Bulgari notably began to create its own trademark in jewelry in the 1960s, embracing boldly-colored combinations of gemstones, use of heavy gold, and forms derived from Greco-Roman classicism, the Italian Renaissance, and the 19th-century Roman school of goldsmiths. The company helped to develop a look that would come to be known as the “Italian school” of jewelry design.


This exhibition clearly demonstrated Bulgari’s successful cultivation of prominent patrons and movie stars like Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, and perhaps most notably, Elizabeth Taylor that has long been a key aspect of the jeweler’s reputation.  I found a film showing how each handmade piece requires 200 hours of labor fascinating. See this exhibition before February 17, 2014.


We left the deYoung Museum and drove to the Legion of Honor heading for the Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter exhibition. Several treats were in store for us.  The first treat was the beauty of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor situated high on the headlands above the Golden Gate.  Walking past of model of Rodin’s sculpture of “The Thinker” we entered the museum and heard the delightful sounds of an organ concert. Free concerts are in place every Saturday and Sunday at 4pm.  It was lovely to be looking at the paintings while hearing the organ.


On our way to the Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter we stopped to look at the Matisse from SFMOMA exhibition, which is jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). This exhibition brings together the work of Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) from both institutions’ collections for a nearly yearlong presentation at the Legion of Honor that traces four decades of Matisse’s career, celebrating the Bay Area’s early and long-standing enthusiasm for Matisse. This exhibition is single-gallery featuring 23 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from SFMOMA’s internationally acclaimed Matisse collection, alongside four important paintings and drawings from the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings, and two works from private local collections. “We are delighted to present these masterworks from our collection in such a stunning setting at the Fine Arts Museums,” said Neal Benezra, SFMOMA director. “Particularly exciting is the rare opportunity to view these Matisse works—so beloved by the public—in a fresh, new light.”




 “It is a true pleasure to offer the collaborative efforts of our two institutions to our community,” declared Colin B. Bailey, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco director. “San Francisco is fortunate to be home to impressive collections of Matisse’s work, and we are pleased to present the works together for the first time at the Legion of Honor, which is known for its outstanding holdings of European art.” This is a lovely, charming exhibition that will be in place until September 7, 2014.



Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter brings together one hundred of the artist’s oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, and sculptures. I didn’t know that I knew Anders Zorn but our friends were very anxious to see his work.  We found this a remarkable exhibition. Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860–1920) was one of the world’s most famous living artists at the turn of the twentieth century, known for his virtuoso painting and printmaking techniques.


As we entered the exhibition and saw the work of the young artist, I almost caught my breath.  The watercolor work was so delicate and beautiful, it reminded me of eggshells or fine china.  The other outstanding feature in this section was the depiction of water.  I felt I was in the boat, the water movement felt so real.


During the 1880s and 1890s Zorn lived in London and Paris, where he became acquainted with key figures of the Belle Époque, including James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and Auguste Rodin, as well as many of the French Impressionists. A contemporary in Paris noted Zorn was “at home here, as he was everywhere, just like a fish in water.”  He was ambitious and entrepreneurial and used his connections to both gain commissions and befriend prominent collectors such as Isabella Stewart Gardner who became an important patron, and whose portrait, Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston) is part of this exhibition.


Zorn made seven trips to the United States because he was in great demand as a painter of society portraits. He portrayed many of the most significant figures of the Gilded Age, including the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and President William Taft, in a portrait that still hangs in the White House. Zorn traveled throughout the country and visited San Francisco during the winter of 1903–1904.  I was surprised to realize that I recognized Anders Zorn’s work when I saw the portrait titled "Mrs. Potter Palmer" by Anders Zorn, 1893.  I usually see this at the Art Institute of Chicago and was delighted to see “an old friend” as part of this exhibition.


 “Zorn’s international success ultimately bears witness to the universal language of his art,” said James A. Ganz, curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the coordinator of this project in San Francisco.


This exhibition will be in place until February 2, 2014.  Don’t miss it.


Photos: Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco unless otherwise specified.


Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park
34th Avenue and Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121
Hours: Tuesdays–Sundays, 9:30 am–5:15 pm, last ticket 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays.

Admission Tickets

Tickets start at $15 for adults and include general admission; discounts are available for seniors, students, and youths. Members and children five and under are admitted free. Tickets available at Prices subject to change.


de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Museum Hours
Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 am–5:15 pm
Friday (March 29–November 29, 2013) 9:30 am–8:45 pm
Closed Mondays (except November 11, December 23 and 30, 2013; January 20 and February 17, 2014)

Admission: $20-$22 adults; $17-$19 seniors; $16-$18 college students with ID; $10-$12 youths 6–17. (These prices include general admission.) Members and children 5 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.

Tickets can be purchased on site and on the de Young’s website. Tickets purchased online include a $1 handling charge.

Group ticket reservations available by emailing [email protected]



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