San Francisco’s venerable Palace of Legion of Honor, part of the city’s Fine Arts Museums, is currently hosting the very popular Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade.
The extensive exhibition focuses on the impact of the millinery trade in Paris during the Belle Epoch era on the work of Degas and his contemporaries. Paintings and pastels by Degas, Renoir, Edouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Toulouse- Lautrec and others, some never before shown in the U.S., are featured. In addition to the splendid impressionist paintings, included in the exhibition are 40 marvelous examples of millinery from that time period—in other words—hats!
These hats range in size and complexity from the sublime to over the top. One chapeau is topped with an entire owl, which had been preserved specifically for that purpose. There are plumes, beads, metallic wire, ribbons and flowers adorning these mostly enchanting toppers.
Men’s hats are included in the exhibit too. There are fine examples including boater and bowler hats, along with a sketch of Degas himself in a top hat.
The exhibition was quite crowded, mostly with ladies of a certain age, oohing and ahhing over the millinery creations. There were a few patrons sporting hats and we spotted several of the museum’s docents in the spirit of things– wearing lovely fascinators.
We didn’t take a docent-guided tour but shared our table at lunch with a group of ladies from the San Jose area who had and raved about it. It is necessary to reserve a spot for a guided tour in connection with this exhibit.
Special exhibition tickets are required for the Degas exhibit, in addition to the general admission fee for the museum. This doesn’t seem to be keeping the crowds away at all downstairs. There were numerous tour groups vying to get close to the works during our midweek trip to the Legion of Honor.
Upstairs in the galleries featuring Rodin’s classic sculpture, visitors can enjoy near solitude—at least during our visit. Displayed with the August Rodin: The Centenary Installation, which honors the 100th anniversary of the artist’s death, you’ll find the provocative work of Sarah Lucas. Sarah Lucas:Good Muse is the first major exhibition of the UK artist’s work in the U.S.
Sarah Lucas:Good Muse would probably be much more comfortable at the SFMOMA (SF Museum of Modern Art) than at the classically- focused Legion of Honor. The docent who provided a tour of the exhibition shared that many patrons and members of the museum were more than a little unhappy with Lucas’ work.
Lucas’ sculptures, made from plaster, panty hose, florescent lights, a bedspring and mattress, cigarettes and other materials, allude to sexual interactions, availability, empowerment, and domestic responsibilities, according to the docent. She also pointed out examples where Rodin’s work related to the themes of Lucas’ pieces.
Apparently the artist wanted to “bring color” to the galleries and chose to include a series of yellow urinal sculptures displayed atop small refrigerators, placed among Rodin’s classic sculpture. We found the juxtaposition interesting but could easily understand the contretemps. At the entrance to the galleries where Lucas’ work is displayed, there are signs warning that the art may not be appropriate for all viewers. We have chosen not to include photos of the most controversial work for that reason.
Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millinery Trade closes September 24 and Sarah Lucas: Good Muse closes September 17. Go see these very different exhibitions for yourself and let us know what you think. A day at the Palace of Legion of Honor is always a day well spent.