The Legion of Honor: San Francisco’s most beautiful museum

28 Jan 2019

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco’s most beautiful museum, displays an impressive collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art in an unforgettable setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the Legion of Honor is a beautiful Beaux-arts building located in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge and all of San Francisco, the Legion is most noted for its breathtaking setting.

The Legion of Honor is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Its holdings include European paintings; European decorative arts and sculpture; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and one of the largest repositories of works of art on paper in the nation.

European Painting

The Legion’s rich collection of more than 800 European paintings includes masterpieces from the 14th to the early 20th centuries. The approximately 250 paintings on view present a survey of artistic accomplishments by Europe’s leading masters, from Fra Angelico to Claude Monet.

The Assuaging of the Waters

Although not one of the museum’s most famous paintings, it certainly is one of the most visually stunning. A representation of the biblical flooding by John Martin, the large painting (over seven feet long) contains many symbols and details that can only be seen up close, including the highly textured nature of the painting.

The Thinker

This sculpture by Auguste Rodin is one of the most well-known pieces in the Legion of Honor, and conveniently, it is actually the one piece that can be seen without entering the building. One of the original 28 bronze castings, The Thinker is a sculpture from The Gates of Hell, a large set of doors currently featured in the Musée d’Orsay, and is thought to be a representation of Dante.

Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix

One of several El Greco, or Domenikos Theotokopoulos, pieces in the Legion of Honor, this painting draws the viewer in through its religious theme and dark, gloomy colors. Placed next to St. John the Baptist, this painting in particular is important to the city of San Francisco, as it was gifted to the museum to honor the city for its patron saint.

The Three Shades

Also part of The Gates of Hell, The Three Shades is another casting done by Rodin. The Legion of Honor has a large selection of Rodin’s work, including many pieces that are separate from The Gates of Hell. The movement and emotion captured through the three identical figures, shadows of the dead, in the sculpture is stunning and worth a view.

The Broken Pitcher

One of those paintings which draws you in from across the room, The Broken Pitcher is a romantic 19th century piece by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

Water Lilies

Part of a set of paintings done by Monet — among his best known — this painting is a large impressionist rendering of water lilies. The painting is vertically configured and features red and purple lilies. Le Grand Canal is another Monet piece featured in the museum that has been called ‘one of the most celebrated Venice paintings’ by Sotheby’s.

Love and the Maiden

By John Stanhope, this painting is considered one of his best pieces and is phenomenal in person. Painted in tempera, gold leaf, and gold paint, the detail in the piece is seriously impressive, especially given the size of the painting. The piece is a rendition of the myth of Cupid and Psyche and strongly appeals to Aesthetic philosophies through its visual detailing rather than intellectual attraction.

Landscape at Beaulieu

Renoir was one of the leading impressionist painters, so any piece by him is worth at least glancing at. One of the few Renoir’s at the Legion of Honor, Landscape at Beaulieu is done in oil and features the free color technique typical of his earlier paintings, although this piece was from later in his career.


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