Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Favorite Paintings at Museum of Legion of Honor, San Francisco

In San Francisco Bay Area, if one wants to see some substantial European painting collection, one has to go to the Museum of Legion of Honor (Legion), though its collection is still small and rather disappointing, even comparing to my previous resident city, Cincinnati, arguably somewhat more provincial.

Even so, I cannot deny that there were some exceptionally beautiful works at the Legion.  My favorite piece in that Museum is an extremely atmospheric piece by French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.  It was not big and not flashy.  It was luminous and sublime.  There was a hushed spell emanating from the depth of the canvas.  The figures - a group of performer in respite by the moon light, at a most private and intimate moment, oblivious of the intrusive viewers.  I often felt that I should have averted my eyes to be decent but I couldn't.  The slightly resigned postures of the two male characters, the composed yet relaxed of the female characters tell incredibly rich stories about them - not sure what but rich.  Enigmatic.  Engaging.  Above all, it was the enchanting beauty lingers with me the most.  The contrast of light and dark, the finely defined figures, the fairly-tale atmosphere, the wonderful sheen of the silk dresses, all left indelible impressions on viewers.  A quiet rapture it is.

The Foursome (La Partie Quarrée), ca. 1713,
Oil on Canvas, 19 1/2 x 24 3/4 (49.5 x 62.9 cm),
Jean-Antoine Watteau, French 1684-1721

The other favorite of mine in this museum is Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child, by the Flemish master, Anthony van Dyck.  It is a mother and child portrait, rather official one.  Regal and formal.  But the spirits of the two figures were so well presented that their humanity penetrated from their stiff armor of clothes.  The duchess gazed upon viewers casually, knowing that being a public figure, she would be gazed upon and she willingly submitted to such rule of game.  She did her best to perform her public duty, yet maintained her status as a mother and the pillar of support to her young child, who looked like a miniature adult, yet without the self-consciousness and the confidence the mother had.  Their relationship was formal but not without love.  Their love was expressed by their utter trust, thus moving.

As one of the best draftsmen in the art history, van Dyck demonstrated why such regard amply.  He was also a wonderful colorist and the richness of the colors balanced perfectly - never called attention to themselves yet essential.  It would be hard to substitute with other tones to the colors he picked.  Blue, green, red, silver and above all, black, created a harmonious visual feast.

Marie Claire de Croy, Duchess d'Havre and Child, 1634
Oil on canvas
81 1/2 x 48 1/2 (207 x 123.2 cm)
Anthony van Dyck, Flemish, 1599–1641

My Favorite Museum Collection Series

>> My Favorite Museum Collection Series 4: My Favorite Paintings at Cincinnati Art Museum
<< My Favorite Museum Collection Series 2: My Favorite De Young Museum Collections

List of My Favorite Artworks in the Museums I've Visited

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