Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

de Young Museum

California Palace of the Legion of Honor

(above: entrance to de Young Museum. photo courtesy of John Hazeltine. © 2006 John Hazeltine)

(above: California Palace of the Legion of Honor. photos © 1998 John Hazeltine)

San Francisco, CA




The new de Young Museum, which opened its doors to the public on October 15, 2005, offers audiences a new way of seeing one of the most important and wide-ranging collections in the western United States. In the 109 years since its inception, the de Young museum's permanent collection has evolved from an assemblage of exotic objects from the Americas and Africa into a world-class collection of more than 25,000 Western and non-Western works of art.

The de Young's landmark new building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is a state-of-the-art facility expressly designed for the presentation, appreciation, and study of the de Young's diverse collections. It features more than 84,000 square feet of gallery space to showcase a vast range of art under one roof, celebrating the uniqueness of these cultures while also revealing the interrelatedness of human expression across civilizations and eras.

In its entirety, the de Young collection offers a window into the complex factors that have shaped art, history, and society around the world. The new building gives physical form to the museum's mission to find a common ground through art and to build bridges across cultures and traditions. Exhibition spaces flow into one another to emphasize connections, while each gallery is visually distinct in order to highlight the uniqueness of every facet of the museum's holdings. In select areas, works from different eras and cultures will be displayed side-by-side to illustrate the evolution of artistic traditions over time, to examine different treatments of similar subjects, or to address the impact of cross-cultural exchanges and influences.

The de Young is particularly renowned for its holdings of historic and contemporary American art, ancient Mesoamerican art, the arts of the indigenous peoples of the American continents, Oceania and Africa, and textiles from around the world. In recent years, the de Young has placed particular emphasis on enhancing its collections of contemporary art. The new building provides significantly more space for the display of the museum's growing contemporary collections, and it will feature five site-specific commissions by leading contemporary artists Gerhard Richter, James Turrell, Kiki Smith, Ed Ruscha and Andy Goldsworthy.


American Art at the de Young

In the new de Young, 17 galleries spanning 25,000 square feet are devoted to showcasing the museum's extensive collection of American paintings, decorative arts, and sculpture. This represents a 7,300-square-foot increase from the old de Young and will allow for the simultaneous presentation of hundreds of paintings, sculptures and decorative objects-inviting new perspectives on the pivotal eras and movements in American art. The collection serves as a powerful record of American history and the social, political, and cultural conditions of the nation as seen through the eyes of artists.

The American art collection is displayed chronologically on both floors of the new building. Ten galleries on the second floor feature artwork spanning the colonial era through the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century. These collections are housed in intimate, wood-floored galleries where rooms of traditional shape and scale evoke these early periods of American art.

The survey of American art continues on the ground floor with eight galleries encompassing 11,000 square feet devoted to art from the modernist period through the present. Unlike the more traditional galleries upstairs, these spaces feature unconventionally shaped rooms, high ceilings, and natural light for optimal viewing of large-scale contemporary pieces.


American Paintings

Presenting a continuous spectrum of American painting from the colonial period through the present day, the de Young's holdings are widely recognized as the most important in the western United States and are particularly vital to scholars in the region.

Among the 1,000 paintings in the collection are major works by John Singleton Copley, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Eakins, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hart Benton, George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, Diego Rivera, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, and Robert Motherwell. Highlights include:

The American paintings collection has grown substantially in the last decade, particularly in its holdings of contemporary paintings. Recent gifts and acquisitions include: At Five in the Afternoon by Robert Motherwell (1950); and Ed Ruscha's A Particular Kind of Heaven (1983).


American Decorative Arts and Sculpture

The de Young's American decorative arts collection encompasses 6,000 objects, dating from colonial times to the present, and it serves as a rare and important resource for scholars and art lovers on the West Coast. Highlights of the collection include:

The de Young's rapidly growing sculpture collection includes major works by Hiram Powers, Thomas Eakins, James Turrell, Douglas Tilden, Sargent Johnson, Isamu Noguchi, Barbara Hepworth, David Smith, Louise Nevelson, Mark di Suvero, and Claes Oldenburg. The collection includes objects that provide important insights into American history and culture, often through their dual function as objects of both craft and utility. An 1854 Seth Thomas shelf clock, designed exclusively with Chinese characters and numerals, highlights California's substantial Chinese immigrant population following the Gold Rush. Many works in the collection also reflect artists' opinions on historical events and social trends in American history. One such example is Beat artist George Herms's sculptural assemblage, The Meat Market (1960-61), a comment on mid-20th century urban renewal, suburban development, and consumerism.


Post-World War II American Art

The Fine Arts Museums' permanent collection of post-World War II American art has undergone the greatest growth in the past decade. Given the de Young museum's stature as the most important survey collection of American art in the West, the Fine Arts Museums are committed to acquiring and exhibiting post-World War II art, thus maintaining the historical continuity of the permanent collections, supporting living artists and the art community; and expanding our audiences.

The greatest strengths of the post-war collections, located on the main floor of the new de Young, are representative works by California artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Frank Lobdell, James Budd Dixon, Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Brown, Nathan Oliveira, Bruce Conner, Jess, Manuel Neri, William Wiley, and Mel Ramos. Additionally, the national scope of the collection has been enhanced with the acquisition of major works such as:

Representing a new area of growth are lens-based and time-based media, with works by Nigel Poor, Catharine Wagner, Rebecca Bollinger, and Alan Rath. The George and Dorothy Saxe Collection has also introduced new media (glass, ceramic, wood, fiber) into the American art collections. Highlights include:


American Art Study Center

The de Young's American art collection is supported by the American Art Study Center and Library, one of the most important scholarly resources on the West Coast. The Study Center features resources identical to the Smithsonian's Archive of American Art, as well as access to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's Collections database. It occupies an entire floor of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Education Tower.

Adjacent to the Study Center is the Sardegna Paintings Conservation Center, a 2,500-square-foot studio featuring high ceilings, large banks of windows for maximum natural light, and new x-radiograph and microscope equipment as well as infrared, ultraviolet and photography equipment. The Center allows for the conservation and restoration of art from the collections and vital art-historical research.

The de Young Memorial Museum is located in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the other museum of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is located in San Francisco's Lincoln Park (34th Avenue and Clement Street). For fees and hours please see The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web site.


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