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The California Palace of the Legion of Honor

California Palace of the Legion of Honor
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor

The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is an art experience inside and out. Housing a fine collection, the museum is located on a stellar site with breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay.

Re-opened in 1995 after a two-year, $35 million renovation, even the building itself is a work of art. Inside there are over 4,000 years of art, including paintings, sculptures and ceramics mostly of European style.

Explore some of Rembrandt’s lesser known works or see Rubens, El Greco or David. Along with the masters, there are impressionists and post-impressionists – Renoir, Degas, Pissaro, Seurat and many others.

Here you can see a range from Durer’s Adam and Eve of 1504 to Monet’s Water Lilies of 1914. There are even examples of Picasso and Braque within the collection. The permanent collection covers 20 rooms and there are several rotating exhibits.

Since most art lovers have visited many of the more famous museums, the Legion of Honor presents a special treat. The opportunity to view smaller, lesser known works by the great artists is a rare delight. Typically, such chances are limited to viewing in books or online.

Here visitors can ‘fill in the gaps’ by taking leisurely looks at works the other museums missed in the grab for the most well-known. The uncrowded rooms provide a peaceful setting for contemplating the Van Gogh and Fra Angelico on display.

There are unique tapestries and decorative arts from throughout Europe covering a period of several centuries. Drawings from the masters and those who should be flesh out the offerings.

One of the highlights of the visit is the presence of several Rodin sculptures in two rooms. A casting of The Thinker is outside on the grounds and not far away is The Kiss of 1884.

While taking in the sculptures, walk around the grounds and examine the building itself. A three-quarter scale replica of the Palais de La Légion d’Honneur in Paris, the museum was constructed as a tribute to the fallen of WWI.

Fitting in with the theme, earthquake retrofitting in the 1980s uncovered a number of skeletons on the grounds. The remains were part of the Golden Gate Cemetery, purchased by the city in 1867. Today, much of the area is covered by the Lincoln Park Golf Course.

But the site is fully alive today with feasts for the eyes in several ways. Sitting at the end of Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway in the U.S. and 3,000 miles long, the views atop the hill are spectacular. From here you can see not only the bay, but also the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge.

After you’ve taken in the vista, move up close and observe the carving above the entrance of the building. The replica is accurate down to the inscription Honneur et Patrie above the portal. Then wander into the Legion Cafe and enjoy a relaxing glass of tea on one of San Francisco’s more-often-than-supposed sunny days.

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