Intimate Impressionism at the Legion of Honor

Intimate Impressionism at the Legion of Honor, Mar. 29 – Aug. 3, 2014

During a long lunch break, I drove from my office in the Presidio to the Legion of Honor in order to see the Initimate Impressionism exhibit. It was one of those magical afternoons in San Francisco. The weather was beautiful and not a shred of fog was in sight. The rugged California coast line looked as beautiful and pastoral as an impressionistic painting.

When I arrived, I read that the exhibit was on loan from the National Gallery. My heart sank. I had visited the National Gallery before and the impressionist exhibit struck me as dull and gray as a foggy day in San Francisco. Luckily, this exhibit did have a few notable pieces and my eye danced in the light captured by the artists. However, many of the pieces took their place in the exhibit as historical examples or educational pieces, rather than as exceptional pieces of art.

The Intimate Impressionism exhibit at the Legion of Honor probably costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but impressionism has been imitated so often that it has become cliche. I half expect that I could wander into an antique shop and buy a landscape painting similar to one in the exhibit for about $250. And honestly, though the pieces by Cezanne and Renoir stood out, I couldn’t tell you the difference between some of the pieces by lesser known artists in this exhibit and the pieces in an antique store. How gauche of me. Living life 150 years after the advent of impressionism, I have little sense of just how radical the movement was.

When visiting an exhibit like this one, I generally ignore the curators comments posted by paintings and skip the audio tour–especially when I’m on a lunch break. But in this case, I found that the comments were well written and the exhibit well curated. The explantory text stayed focused and to the point. The paintings were organized to show the historical development of human perception and how impressionism evolved. I even learned about the connection between pointillism and the small brush strokes of impressionism.

Though I enjoyed the exhibit, the trully magnificient part of the trip was the location. After rushing through the exhibit, I stepped outside in the afternoon light and had my breath taken away by the view. The sun radiated clean and bright. Clouds, perfectly formed, cast shadows on the lush green hillsides of the Marin Headlands. The ocean was a riveting silvery blue. It was a sight trully worth painting.