San Francisco

Joseph Turner, Francois Boucher, William Blake, George Inness, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Renoir, Everett Shinn, Sir Jacob Epstein, Ivan Opfer, Wyndham Lewis, Feliks Topolsky, William V. Krausz, Marsden Hartley, Chester Harding and more

M. H. De Young Memorial Museum

A large and heterogeneous selection of paintings, drawings and small sculptures from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. T. Edward Hanley of Pennsylvania was recently exhibited at the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. Although this collection would appear to range over a large percentage of the most illustrious names in the art history of England, France and the United States, roughly from early in the last quarter of the 18th century through the first quarter of the 20th century, it is, except for a very small scattering of choice items, relatively undistinguished—the great names being represented for the most part by minor works or by merely biographically interesting early works.

Memorable among the collection’s highlights were a watercolor landscape by Joseph Turner, Francois Boucher’s chalk drawing, The Three Graces, William Blake’s gouache, The Complaint of Job, and George Inness’s oil on canvas landscape, View of Rome from Tivoli (1872). Of essentially historical interest was a fairly large selection of works by late 18th and early 19th-century American portraitists, including such eminent figures as Stuart, Sully, Trumbull and Charles, James and Rembrandt Peale. Perhaps the Hanley Collection’s strongest suit is in late 19th-century American Realists and Impressionists: Duveneck, Eakins and Bellows, as well as Chase, Hassam, Prendergast, Twachtman, Ernest Lawson, J. Alden Weir and Abbott Thayer are well represented by excellent and typical examples.

Works of literary, biographical and anecdotal interest were conspicuously numerous throughout all periods represented in the collection, with Sir Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Renoir’s pencil sketch of Rodin heading the list, followed by portraits both casual and formal, in various media, bringing together artists and subjects of varying degrees of literary and/or artistic celebrity: Everett Shinn’s sketches of Mark Twain and of David Belascoe, Sir Jacob Epstein’s portrait of Joseph Conrad, Ivan Opfer’s watercolor and charcoal sketch of Dylan Thomas, a crayon sketch of T. S. Eliot by Wyndham Lewis, drawings of George Bernard Shaw by Feliks Topolsky and by William V. Krausz, Marsden Hartley’s charcoal self-portrait, a portrait of Daniel Webster by Chester Harding (1792–1866), a Duveneck oil portrait of William Merritt Chase, Willard Metcalf’s oil on canvas genre piece. The Ten Cent Breakfast (for which Charles Birch, John Henry Twachtman, Theodore Robinson and Robert Louis Stevenson posed around a table), and J. Alden Weir’s portrait of Albert Pinkham Ryder, to name but a few.

The San Francisco showing of the Hanley Collection exhibition had apparently not been contemplated as of its catalog-credited itinerary, which included only the Gallery of Modern Art (including the Huntington Hartford Collection) and the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, for which institutions the exhibition was initially organized and supplemented with an illustrated and formally annotated catalog of which, incidentally, the meagre, left over supply made available in San Francisco was unfortunately immediately exhausted and never replenished by reprinting. Apparently little thought was given to the matter of installation, and the effect of clutter produced by crowded, multiple-level picture hanging tended to emphasize the essentially upper middle class Edwardian atmosphere which pervades the collection in spite of its few, mostly rather ill-chosen, post-World War I inclusions. An obstacle course of pedestals bore such dreary burdens as two busts by Gaston Lachaise in his Art Nouveau style (one, in fact, designated as a masque, and nickel-plated except for the pursed lips, called to mind, as far superior artistic prototypes, the masks drawn by Bakst for the Diaghilev Ballet), and a sculptural cliché in bronze by Georg Kolbe (1877–1947) entitled Resurrection.

Also showing at the De Young Museum was a rewarding and informative selection of Italian Architectural Drawings (including architectural fantasies for stage sets) of the late Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods from the magnificent collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects. This exhibition, circulated by the Traveling Exhibition Service of the Smithsonian Institution is supplemented with an excellent catalog in which 34 of the exhibition’s 55 drawings are admirably reproduced, while all are informatively annotated with the thorough and scholarly notes of John Harris, Curator of the RIBA Drawing Collection. This exhibition, which extends historically from such great figures of the Cinquecento as Andrea Palladeo (1508–1580) to Pietro Bianchi (1787–1849), includes not only examples of the working drawings of illustrious architects for their own buildings, but also studies by architects of buildings other than those of their own design. Perhaps, however, the most fascinating—as well as the most surprising—of these exhibits to non-architects, are the 19 drawings for stage sets exemplifying amazing as well as amusing extravagances of unfettered architectural imagination.

These sketches are of special interest to students of theater history in that the earliest development of a sophisticated scenography—comprising the contrivance of scenic, architectural and phenomenal illusions for staged performances and spectacles—was uniquely an Italian contribution to the evolution of European theater. During the Renaissance Italian architects were occasionally commissioned to devise monumentally elaborate temporary pavilions, mock-up terraces, and grandiose architectural facades of impermanent fabrication as environments and partial environments for pageants, processions, and other great outdoor ceremonies of state and church. A drawing of uncertain authorship for such a project is included in the exhibition. It was no doubt the precedent established by such employment of architects that led ultimately to their being engaged as the first engineers of scenic and architectural illusions for performed entertainments of various kinds held at the princely courts, and giving rise to the earliest prototypes of the proscenium stage, as well as of the “set” with its basic elemental components, the painted backdrop and the “flat.” These fortunately preserved initial sketches not only record some of the ultimate effects envisioned by the pioneer scenographers, but are frequently appended with such valuable documentative marginalia as plans, section-drawings and other working memoranda for the projected execution of the sets.

Palmer D. French