‘O, what a delightful little picture’

December 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Blackberries | Raphaelle Peale | de Young Museum, San Francisco

Many of the finest treasures in San Francisco’s de Young Museum, including this small still life, came from the Rockefeller Collection of American Art, donated by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III. A passage on page 17 of the Rockefeller catalog describes the unusual grading system they used to buy works of art.

“The Rockefellers … used a gradually developed classification system to rank candidates for purchase — A, B, C, D, X and O. The last two categories were evolved to deal with surprises, the `X’ label was for rare works of extraordinary attractiveness by little-known artists, the `O’ rank was given to exquisite, small-scale works that, no matter what the artist’s fame, generated sufficient pleasure to prompt exclamation, `O, what a delightful little picture!'”

The catalog notes that works from the last two classifications are crucial in giving the Rockefeller collection its personal, idiosyncratic flavor — what one scholar called its “note of individual taste and connoisseurship, and a love of the arts for their own sake, independent of fame or price.”

California’s old master

December 4, 2011 § 3 Comments

Murals by William Keith hang in the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.
Photograph by Jim Karageorge


A great personality was evident to all who came in contact with William Keith. A rather thick-set Scot of medium height, with a head of true nobility — a broad face, wide forehead, kindly gray eyes, ample, well-shaped nose, a moustache and small beard hiding his lips, and a mass of tousled grizzly gray hair surmounting his Jovian head — such was the impression one got of him at first meeting. He generally wore a suit of fine checked gray, more often with the careless abandon of an artist than with the neatly pressed creases of a business or professional man.

To his intimate friends he was always gracious, although they sometimes found him in an exuberant mood and again utterly dejected and despondent. It all depended on whether his work was progressing satisfactorily or not. When he had dashed off an inspired masterpiece he was jubilant and triumphant, but when he had laboriously slaved over something that just would not come out as he intended, he was in the black depths of despair.

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Before Paris, the Steins were locals

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Art patrons Michael and Sarah Stein lived in the Fillmore, then primarily a Jewish neighborhood, before they joined his sister Gertrude and brother Leo in Paris in the early 1900s. So did Gertrude Stein’s longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas.

The Stein family owned and operated some of San Francisco’s many cable car lines, which Michael consolidated and sold. He also built the first rental flats in the city at the corner of Washington and Lyon Streets. It was the income from these investments that enabled the family to collect art and live abroad for many decades. Together they created a legendary collection of modern art and helped establish Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso as two of the most important artists of the 20th century.

The Stein collection has since been dispersed to museums around the world. But it is reunited in “The Steins Collect,” an exhibition on view this summer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which highlights their local connections.

Read more: “Alice B. Toklas lived nearby

Where are the paintings?

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Youth | Arthur Mathews | Oakland Museum

The remaking of the Oakland Museum’s art department continues to spark considerable discussion. What was previously a chronological hanging of California art has given way to a more multidisciplinary approach. This exchange of correspondence between artist Jeff Bellerose and chief curator Philip Linhares offers two prevailing viewpoints.

On 2/7/11 5:03 PM, “jeff bellerose” wrote:

Dear Mr. Linhares:

I was given your email by one of the art guides at the Oakland Museum and I wanted to write to you concerning my visit to your museum. I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of the Oakland Museum, but it is difficult to express my profound disappointment at the new renovation.

The history floor, to start nicely, is very well done — interactive and intriguing and a fine design to try and include and involve kids and adults in the recreation of historical moments. However, the art floor, which has always been my primary reason for visiting, was lacking in, well, art. Where are the paintings?
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How the ‘Floor Scrapers’ found a home

June 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Floor Scrapers | Gustave Caillebotte | Musee d'Orsay

One of just about everybody’s favorite paintings — “Floor Scrapers” by Gustave Caillebotte — is visiting for a few months as part of the “Birth of Impressionism” exhibition at the de Young Museum — a blockbuster loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, which is undergoing renovation.

It comes with a great story.

Caillebotte was a talented painter. He was also from a wealthy family. That enabled him to encourage his fellow Impressionists, long before their work found favor, by buying their paintings. He assembled a remarkable collection of work by his friends: Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas and Cezanne. When Caillebotte died in 1894 he left about 60 paintings from his collection to the French government. But Impressionism was still a marginal movement, and the authorities were reluctant to accept the bequest.

With the involvement of Renoir and Monet, an agreement was eventually reached and 40 paintings from Caillebotte’s collection were exhibited in a new wing of the Musee du Luxembourg. Among them are many of the jewels of French Impressionism. That includes Caillebotte’s own “Floor Scrapers,” which, at Renoir’s insistence, was added to the bequest.

New exhibition: “The Caillebotte Brothers’ Private World

He made California art respectable

September 20, 2004 § Leave a comment

Sept 24, 1924 – Sept 17, 2004

Paul Mills, the former director of the Oakland Museum — who played a key role in the Bay Area Figurative Movement, curating its seminal exhibition in Oakland in 1957 — has died.

Mills helped shape two major California cultural institutions, the Oakland Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, serving as director of both. In an interview shortly before his death in 2004, he said his work in Oakland was his greatest contribution.

“Looking back on my career, the most important thing was creating that California collection at the Oakland Museum,” he said. “Second most important was creating the building,” its architecturally acclaimed home.

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Master of the mural

November 8, 2003 § Leave a comment

The Soil | Arthur Mathews

Join us on Saturday, November 22, 2003, for a discussion on the legacy of Arthur Mathews murals at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, home of six recently restored Mathews murals, including The Soil (above) and The Grain. Thomas Reynolds, owner and director of the Thomas Reynolds Gallery in San Francisco, will engage Harvey Jones, senior curator of art at the Oakland Museum, in an intimate converation about the life and work of California artist Arthur F. Mathews.

In 1902, Mathews was commissioned to undertake an ambitious plan for 12 large murals for what was then the Oakland Free Library building, financed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Only six of the murals were completed, but they remain, according to Harvey Jones, “among the finest examples of the muralist’s art in this country.”

Apparently Carnegie agreed. He said he considered the Oakland public library the most beautiful of any of the hundreds of libraries bearing his name. “The work that Arthur Mathews has done upon the walls of the Oakland library stands as a monument to his genius,” Carnegie told the San Francisco Call in 1911.

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