Sunday, May 18, 2014

San Francisco

We came for 48 hours for one purpose, the dedication of a Memorial Court  at the de Young Museum to the late John E. Buchanan, Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from 2006 until  his death in 2011.  My wife, Penelope, was his Curator of European Art for a decade at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon and he and his wife, Lucy, have been our good friends for about 25 years -- a relationship that started with the 1990 exhibition Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour : a Love Affair with Style  at Rosenberg and Stiebel gallery in New York and The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, where John Buchanan was then Director.

As you may have read, real estate prices have sky rocketed in San Francisco and with them hotel prices.  Belonging to the Columbia University Club in New York allowed us to stay at the Metropolitan Club in downtown San Francisco.  It is a women's club but since I was traveling with my wife, I had a free pass.  Not only was the price decent we also got a suite for our money.  That is not quite as fabulous as it sounds since it is right on the corner of two of the busier streets on lower Nob Hill and there were ear plugs conveniently placed on our bedside tables.  Being originally city folk, however, we did not need them.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco consist of The Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. The morning of the dedication we spent in the Legion of Honor with their great old master and French 18th century decorative arts collections.  So many great works of art.  One,  work that has an incredible presence and really grabbed me was a large marble bust by Benvenuto Cellini (Florence 1500-1571) and workshop.  Cellini was one of the greatest goldsmiths and sculptors of the Renaissance and here he presents Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

A number of the works of art in the museum came through Rosenberg & Stiebel including a set of 4 paintings by Carle van Loo painted for Madame de Pompadours chateau of Bellevue and a pair of Nattier allegories (my wife insists these are his best works) all from Rothschild collections, in the gallery which was just redone by the new director, Dr. Colin B. Bailey, whose main field of expertise is French 18th century.

In the afternoon we went to the de Young Museum to see the Native American Collection newly donated by the Thomas Weisel family. The Weisel Navajo blankets and Mimbres pots significantly strengthen the museums holdings which already include the impressive Eskimo and Inuit collection bequeathed by Thomas Fowler in 2007 and the Weis gift of Pueblo pottery given in the same year. 

At the museum closing hour, another crowd began to gather at the door -- friends and admirers of  John Buchanan.  As Lucy said, John was a populist, He did not believe that art was meant to be appreciated only by the elite.  It was most appropriate that the first space one enters in the museum was to be dedicated to John E. Buchanan, Jr.

John E. Buchanan, Jr.

He had always dreamed of being a director at one of the great international museums and  n San Francisco he not only achieved his ambition but he succeeded mightily.   As he had in all his previous museum posts he managed to do shows that resonated with the public and brought them in in droves.  In San Francisco he raised the annual attendance to one and a half million visitors.

Dide Wilsey, President of the Board of Trustees, spoke of the tours abroad she made with John and his wife, Lucy, when they went on shopping sprees, both personal and for the museum.  Lucy was always there to keep them on schedule, setting up the meetings with museum directors and collectors.  These junkets often led to popular exhibitions at the museum.

Colin Bailey spoke well of his predecessor too but, of course, Lucy made the finest tribute, often using Johns native southern expressions gaining a laugh of recognition from her audience.  It is hard to express the love that was in that room, but I can tell you that when it was over my wife was in tears. 

After the ceremony all guests who had come from as far afield as London and Costa Rica, at Lucys personal invitation were treated to a dinner at a restaurant taken over completely so that all the guests could fit in.  Luckily the weather cooperated because many were seated in the outdoor garden.  The next day all out of town guests were invited for a brunch to Lucy's home, which is filled with works of art that she and John collected over the decades.   It was a most comfortable get together of many friends who had played a part in different phases of the Buchanans lives from high school on. At each of the functions we met new and old friends who we hope to reconnect with in the future.  I have a feeling that some will take us up on our invitation to visit Santa Fe.

Lucy Buchanan with Iris Cantor

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