Legion of Honor: Royal Treasures and Blackbirds

Yesterday, we visited the Legion of Honor. They have an exhibition of Royal Treasures from the Louvre, a collection of opulent artifacts and woven wall hangings. There’s an inlaid stone table-top that is quite incredible; if you go, be sure to notice the pomegranate seeds…

louvremainThe other highlights were a collection of cups and jugs carved out of semi-precious stones like amethyst and agate and lapis lazuli; and a collection of elegant and ornate snuff-boxes that reminded me of pictures of Faberge easter eggs. The whole exhibition, with its emphasis on rich, fine work reminded me of displays I’ve seen of Moghul art, where a similar dynamic was on display – artisans patronized by a wealthy court, trying to out-do each other in the brilliance and detail of their work.

Somehow, though, in a museum, it just seemed out of context. I’ve visited Versailles once, and there it would have all made sense.


On the way in, we walked past the big fountain at the Legion of Honor. It’s pretty devoid of life – the water is too deep for birds, and there’s nothing there. So I was surprised when I thought I saw a blackbird dive in. Of course I was mistaken. There was no bird, dead or alive, in the water.

fountain with hidden blackbirds

blackbirds under the rim of LOH fountainOn the way back, from the other side of the fountain, I saw what happened. The birds were flying under the rim into the overflow gutter, which had just enough water to make a useful bird-bath. I watched for a few minutes, and saw several birds do the same thing.


Legion of Honor: Three Great Exhibits

We stopped by the Legion of Honor the other day. Though this museum isn’t quite in our backyard like the De Young or the Cal Academy, it’s only 15 minutes away — and it may be my favorite. At least currently: In addition to its wonderful permanent collection of paintings from classical to impressionist, it’s got three unmissable exhibits.


There’s a mosaic floor from Lod, Israel on display. It’s from 1700 years ago, but it’s so well-preserved it looks new. And it’s brilliant, like a carpet of tiny squares of stone.

The most dramatic part is a water theme with huge fishes and ships; but I was also taken by the other side, which has a theme of predators attacking various animals.

I was surprised to find a tiger among the lions and leopards and snakes … tigers are jungle cats, and where’s the jungle? There was also a peacock. I’d always thought these animals to be Asian, so it was puzzling and fascinating.

Also fascinating was a footprint. Apparently, when the archaeologists were lifting the floor to preserve it, they found workers’ footprints in the layer underneath. One of those is also on display.  (This exhibition is on until 24 July 2011.)


The storied Magna Carta is perhaps the first legal document in the world to give protection to the common man. The rights actually were restricted to “freemen” but they formed the basis for the expansion of those rights to everyone.

The first document, signed by King John of England is I think lost, but there are 17 surviving versions issued by subsequent kings. The one on display at the Legion of Honor is from the reign of Henry III, and dates back nearly 800 years to 1217. It’s in Latin, in a beautiful hand. I couldn’t read it, but the translation of one para hangs beside it. It gave me goose-bumps to read it. It’s only here until 5 June 2011.


The final exhibition, down in the basement of the building, didn’t permit photography, I don’t know why. It’s “Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave,” a display of elaborate clothing reproduced in paper and paint. She’s inspired for the most part by classical paintings. It’s worth a visit for the sheer artistry involved. The museum has a picture on its homepage for now, though I expect this will change when the exhibit moves on — 12 June 2011, I believe. [ETA July 2011: No longer on the home page, this archive page has a bunch of pictures — including ones of the sculpture inspired by the painting here.]

The picture here is a public domain image of Eleanor of Toledo, painted by the artist Angelo Bronzino in 1545. This dress, in white with a bold black and gold pattern, is one that is reproduced in the Pulp Fashion exhibition. An interesting factoid: The dress never apparently existed (though Eleanor did). They gave the artist a bolt of the fabric and asked him to paint it as a gown on his subject.

[ETA: I should note that I’m a member of the Fine Arts Museums… it’s an annual membership that gives free access to two people both to the De Young and the Legion of Honor. If you want to see many of the exhibitions, it’s a whole lot less pricey than paying full admission each time.]

A Local Celebration

Mother’s Day, 2011. The family took me out for lunch to a place of my choice… Pacific Catch on 9th Avenue. It’s barely 10 minutes from Forest Knolls, and has an interesting range of food from sushi to fish-and-chips served in faux newspaper. (Until I started writing this, I didn’t know it had 4 locations: 9th Avenue, and Marina in San Francisco; and in Corte Madera and Campbell.) I’d eaten there a couple of times before, and really liked it —  great food, friendly servers, spacious, modern and bright decor. (Don’t miss the modern chandeliers made of bottomless cobalt glass bottles.)

We parked at the paid parking lot across from Ebisu restaurant… and we’re glad we did. The street was crowded, and parking difficult.  Only a little while later, we saw a car being towed out of the bus-stop box while parking enforcement stood by. Oops. Not a good way to celebrate.

Knots of people stood in front of all the restaurants on the block. “It’s so cute,” commented one of our party, “All these people standing in groups, like here’s our mother.”

We’d made no reservations, so while we waited for a place to open up, we walked across to Golden Gate Park. There, just above the baseball diamond, was a Blue Heron hunting in the grass, oblivious to the people out enjoying the sun and breeze. Only temporarily oblivious, though. After a few minutes, it had had enough and flew into a tree . They’re nesting at nearby Stow Lake. (Stow Lake’s an avian nursery right now: There’s a Great Horned Owl nest with fledgelings, the heronry, at least one batch of ducklings, and recently I saw a pair of Canada Geese with 8 goslings in tow.)

After a great meal that started with spicy ahi tuna and calamari and edamame and got even better from there on, we went to Tuttimelon, the newish gelato place in West Portal. They have superb sorbets in addition to gelato and frozen yoghurt. (I got passion-fruit and mango…) They also have Illy coffee (“best coffee in the world” commented one of our group), and soon plan to add Vietnamese sandwiches to their offerings. I’m looking forward to it, banh mi are great.

This beautiful pink hydrangea came from  Papenhausen (also inWest Portal), complete with a double pot with a wick to reduce the need for water. Even though it’s a hardware store, it often has an enticing display of potted plants out front. Especially in spring.

In fact, the only non-local element was this wonderful arrangement of ranunculus, tulips, roses and white hydrangea. That came from Menlo Park, a charming new flowershop called Twigs and Petals. Definitely worth it!

Then the guys stayed home to watch a film on TV, while the girls went off to the Legion of Honor’s Pulp Fashion exhibition. It was very impressive: Costumes from the medieval to the vintage, replicated in paper and paint. They were so elaborate and so beautifully made as to be jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately, neither the Legion of Honor nor the De Young permit photography of their exhibitions — even without a flash. I can’t think why.  People can’t post pictures on blogs or Facebooks and tell their friends. (This is why there’s no report here on the Olmec exhibition.)   In this era, it’s like turning down  free publicity of the best kind — word of mouth. With added pictures, worth a thousand words.