Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco, CA



Picturing San Francisco: 1850-2000 at M.H. de Young Memorial Museum · Golden Gate Park

4 March - 14 May 2000


Since its earliest days, the city of San Francisco has been a magnet for artists and creative individuals seeking a place where their freedom of expression could be fully realized. This exhibition of artists' impressions of San Francisco celebrates both a century and a half of artistic achievement and the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city itself -- transformed in 1850 from the sleepy backwater of Yerba Buena to the bustling city of San Francisco by the California Gold Rush. Rather than reflect the typical guidebook views and tourist images so often associated with San Francisco, the works in this exhibition instead present the city as seen through the eyes of its artists, echoing the times they lived in and their unique individual perceptions of San Francisco's dramatic natural setting, inspired urban development, and socially progressive history. (left: Wayne Thiebaud, Hill Street, 1987, color woodcut, 37 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches)

Works on view in "Picturing San Francisco" reflect a wide range of artistic styles and genres, from 19th-century magazine illustrations to photographs to contemporary prints and paintings. Depicted and reflected are many of the landmarks and landscapes most associated with the city: San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate, the Embarcadero, Telegraph Hill, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the Transamerica Pyramid, Union Square, and the seemingly ever-present fog. Also depicted are numerous historical events responsible for shaping the city as we know it. Seen here through the eyes of the city's artists are important events such as the "Great Fire" of 1851 (one of five "great fires" that occurred between 1850 and 1851), the 1894 Midwinter Fair in Golden Gate Park, the disastrous 1906 earthquake and fire, the construction of the bridges across the bay in the 1930s, and the drama and tragedy of the Depression and of World War II. (right: Elmer Bischoff (1916-1991), Yellow Lampshade, 1969, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches)

Artists represented in "Picturing San Francisco" range from the internationally renowned to the locally beloved to the completely obscure. Works by anonymous 19th-century engravers and painters accompany those by locally prominent artists and photographers like Arnold Genthe, Isaiah West Taber, Chiura Obata, Dong Kingman, David Lance Goines, and Robert Bechtle; as well as those by more widely known figures such as Wayne Thiebaud, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn.

While "Picturing San Francisco" offers a compelling look at artists' interpretations of the city, it also provides a view into the changing landscapes of San Francisco and the surrounding area. The gold rush-era waterfront, the Golden Gate and bay without their now-familiar bridges, the haunting ruins of a downtown devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, and ephemeral events such as the 1894 Midwinter Fair and the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition are all among the different, once familiar land- and cityscapes that are not necessarily gone today, but are irrevocably changed. (left: Eduardo Scott (1897-1925), San Francisco Embarcadero, 1924, black crayon and graphite on wove paper, 21 1/2 x 27 1/4 inches; right: Thomas Almond Ayres (1816-1858), North Beach: San Francisco from Off Meigg's Wharf, 1854, charcoal and pastel on marble-dusted drawing board, 13 x 23 1/4 inches)

Read more about the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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