By Michael Raffety
“Botticelli to Braque,” now showing at the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park , is a selection of works by famous names. The pieces chosen by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco come from Scotland’s three national galleries.
Leading off the show of old masters is a bright and colorful painting by Sandro Botticelli of the Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child.
Botticelli’s better known works are the Birth of Venus and Primavera.
The Virgin painting should rank up with the other two in the Uffizi in Florence. The painting from the National Gallery of Scotland seems to glow with its own light, though one must praise the de Young exhibition specialists for masterful lighting.
The Virgin painting is unusual for Botticelli in that it was painted on canvas, not board.
As noted in the show catalog the Virgin is framed by thornless pink roses on both sides -– an enclosed garden that symbolizes the Virgin’s immaculate conception. The lack of thorns also symbolize freedom from original sin.
Renaissance painting, particularly religious subjects , is frequently loaded with symbols and portrays subjects that require a reference work such as Roget’s Thesaurus of the Bible to figure out. Fortunately, this work has already been done by the show catalog.
In addition to the roses, at the bottom of the painting are three other flowers -– cranesbill, violets and strawberries -– all alluding to “purity and humility of the Virgin and Incarnation of Christ.”
In addition to the visually magnetic Botticelli painting, the first painting that dominates the entry to the exhibit is the huge painting of Niagra Falls, From the American Side by Fredric Edwin Church.
Measuring 102 3/8 inches by 91 inches, it is so tall that the ceiling floodlights at the de Young cause a bright spot at the top of the painting. It was originally intended for the Exposition Unviverselle in 1867 in Paris. The painting dates from that year. Instead Church submitted an earlier painting of Niagara. This one was purchased by a wealthy American of Scottish descent, who gave it to the National Gallery in Scotland.
Church’s mansion at Olana along the Hudson River in New York is among the Hudson River mansions open to visitors. It’s a fascinating design.
One Scottish painting particularly among the gallery of Renaissance, 18th and 19th century paintings that include Titian, Rembrandt, Francesco Guardi, Gainsborough, Jean-Baptiste Grueze, Watteau, Vermeer and Joshua Reynolds, among others. William Dyce painted Francesca da Rimini in 1837 to illustrate an episode from the first part of Dane’s Divine Comedy. In that episode a man has pledged his daughter’s hand in marriage to Giovanni the Lame, the eldest son of his enemy, the master of Rimini. Instead Francesca falls in love with he younger brother. This is the subject of the painting, which includes the jealous appearance of the older brother. However, the left portion of the painting suffered cracks and the solution was to cut out the older brother, leaving only his hand resting on the low wall on which they are sitting.
Two additional paintings of note are An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, painted in 1618 by Diego Velasquez, and The Marne at Chenneviers, ca. 1864-65 by Camillle Pissarro.
Velasquez, whose most famous painting is Las Meninas, painted the woman cooking eggs when he was 18. The painting of either his friends or neighbors is a tour de force that belies the painter’s young age.
Pissarro’s painting of the Marne is fascinating because it lacks the colorful almost pointillist-like bold use of colors that characterizes the major body of his later Impressionist work. This scene of the Marne is quieter and more monotone, with color primarily used in a few houses as an accent. Most of the canvas was executed with a palette knife..
American John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw in 1892. That portrait launched his career in England. Later Lady Agnew fell on hard times and tried to sell it to Helen Clay Frick in the U.S. in 1922, but Frick wasn’t interested. She approached the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1924, but they then had a policy of not buying works by living artists. The next year Sargent died and they scooped up the painting, according to Esther Bell, who curated the show for the de Young.
The exhibition “Felt like walking through Art History 101,” said Colin Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Botticelli to Braque, Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland , runs through May 31.
Ticket and parking or bus information can be found at deyoungmuseum.org. Groups of 10 or more can obtain discounted tickets at email@example.com. School groups can find information from firstname.lastname@example.org.