Art, California, Cultural Attractions, Museums, San Francisco

Hats Off to Degas–Lucas Shakes Things Up at SF’s Legion of Honor

September 4, 2017

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!

Hats featuring flowers were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. Silk, cotton, velvet and paper were all used to construct artificial flowers like those shown here.

Some patrons were definitely in the spirit of things.

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.

Plumage from domestic and exotic birds, including ostrich and owls, often were used to embellish luxury ladies’ hats.

These hats all sport fashionable feathers. The hat on the left features a complete owl while the one on the right has an African starling above its brim.

A visitor admires Manet’s “At the Milliner’s”–one of about 40 paintings and pastels in the exhibition.

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.

Bowlers and top hats, along with carrying cases, are part of the exhibit.

The 42 year-old Edgar Degas is shown here wearing 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.

Feathered finery got a lot of attention from visitors.

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.

This docent wears a fine fascinator for her presentation. Reservations for the free tours are essential for this exhibition.

Some of the Impressionist paintings in this exhibition have not been shown in the U.S. before.

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.

Special exhibition tickets are required, in addition to general admission. The galleries became quite crowded at times.

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.

The museum is best known for its ancient and classical European collections which includes paintings, sculpture, furnishings and porcelain.

Sarah Lucas’ work brings contemporary art and controversy to the Legion of Honor.

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.

Giant plaster cast boots, soft sculptures and a series of Lucas’ yellow urinal sculptures are on display among the 50 bronze, plaster and marble works by Rodin.

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.

“Washing Machine Fried Eggs” invites discussion of women’s sexual and domestic roles.

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.

Electricity in this piece “keeps the energy up” according to the artist.

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.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Douglas L. Decker DDS September 4, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Its a great museum!!!

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