A word of advice to those who plan to check out Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, on display at San Francisco’s de Young Museum from March 7 to May 31: Give yourself plenty of time. This is not the kind of exhibition you rush through just so you can boast that you saw it. You’ll want to spend quality time with each of the 55 works on display in the Herbst Exhibition Galleries.
“It’s very hard from move to picture to picture because each one is so fine,” Dede Wilsey, president of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees, said at the press preview on March 6. “You want to stay there and take it all in or have someone explain to you how great it is — but you have to move along.”
Spanning more than 400 years of artistic production, this exhibition highlights works by many of the greatest painters from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. It’s a rare presentation of some of the most iconic images in the history of Western art and which has traveled to San Francisco from the National Galleries of Scotland. Paintings selected from the collection include masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, Diego Velázquez, Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Sir Henry Raeburn, Frederic Edwin Church, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
Three institutions, all in Edinburgh, compose the National Galleries of Scotland—the Scottish National Gallery, founded in 1850 and housed in an impressive building designed by William Henry Playfair (1789–1857); the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which opened in 1889; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which opened in 1960. Bringing together masterpieces from three separate museums into one presentation offers those living in and visiting San Francisco an experience that is possible only during the exhibition.
As Trevor Traina, one of Wilsey’s sons, told his mother at a gathering for the major donors two days before the exhibition opened to the public, “This is the best exhibition we have ever had at this museum.” Wilsey, being the independent thinker she is, challenged her son’s comment but then admitted, “OK, maybe this is the best we’ve done so far…”
Credit Colin B. Bailey, who as Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversees the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, for bringing this amazing exhibition to the west coast for the first time. Ten of the works have been on display at The Frick Collection in New York, where Bailey was employed before he took the job here in 2013. Now we’re talking 55 pieces, including Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, Adam Elsheimer’s The Stoning of Saint Stephen, Rembrandt’s A Woman in Bed, Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker (The Skating Minister) Frederic Edwin Church’s Niagara Falls, Monet’s Poplars on the Epte and Gauguin’s Three Tahitians.
You can judge for yourself where this exhibition ranks. One thing that can’t be argued is these are all masterpieces and deserve your time.
Photo Credit: Scottish National Gallery