The Legion of Honor (so named because it was a 3/4 scale adaptation of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris) was dedicated to the memory of the California soldiers who died in World War I and is one of two museums operated by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the other being the de Young in Golden Gate Park. It is perched in Lincoln Park, easily accessible from most of the Bay Area.
The Legion is a glorious palace of a museum, with marble pillars and staircases, naturally-lit galleries, and a beautiful courtyard lined with columns that is often the site of wedding portraits. It sits crowning a hill in Lincoln Park, offering a rare view of the Golden Gate Bridge. To your left is the glorious Pacific Ocean, pounding the Marin coastline to the north, and to your right is the famous entrance to the San Francisco Bay. A perfect location for a picnic lunch and a photo shoot, this is the location studied by one of the rare casts of Rodin’s “The Thinker” that sits staring out at the world from the Palace’s courtyard.
Apart from the fantastic location, the museum offers up a regular collection of stunning European masterpieces of sculpture, paintings, and other art pieces in the form of furniture, fireplaces, and artifacts.
In addition to the great European collections, the museum hosts hundreds of ancient pieces of artwork from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Assyria, and Mesopotamia.
The FAMSF website even has an image database that you can search before or after your trip so you do further research on thousands of drawings, paintings, and etchings by famous (and unknown!) artists. All the artwork is owned by the FAMSF, but be careful! The description does not say whether the piece is in the de Young Museum or the Legion of Honor. However, you can save all the images you want into your own personal online gallery!
A current exhibition is Cartier in America and demonstrates the amazing skill and talent of Cartier, the world-famous jeweler of the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition allows you to wander through rooms full of millions of dollars worth of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, gold, silver, and platinum. There is also a room with hundreds of drawings and plans made by Cartier for his clients and workers, which allow you to see into the jewelry creation process. This exhibition is open until May 9, 2010.
Another exhibition that will thrill and delight is the Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine exhibit that runs through August 15, 2010. This exhibition focuses on an Egyptian mummy named Irethorrou and details everything modern scientists can decode from Irethorrou’s remains about how he lived and died. Also included in the exhibition are artifacts that date from the Late Period of the 26th Saite Dynasty in the 6th century BC (about 100 years after Rome was first built)!
Words of advice
Like many European museums, the Legion of Honor allows you to get very close to the artwork but does not allow you to touch anything. There are not very many places to rest within the museum and there are practically no interactive elements. This is a kind of museum best appreciated by those who are patient and interested in reading descriptions to themselves (there are audio tours available). If you or people in your group tend to not like a quiet stroll and study of artwork, despite its great offerings the Legion is not the museum for you.
If you are planning to take in both the Legion and the de Young in the same day, plan a good long lunch to refresh and energize yourself. Walking around museums can be surprisingly exhausting!
The life and art of various artists (check ahead to make sure what you want is there!); the importance of museums to society; the management of museums; the building and perception of public memorials and monuments; the influence of European style on American style; the preservation of art; the management of museums built in dangerous areas (war zones, fault lines, etc.); the influence of art on the past, present, and future
Hours and Cost
The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:30 to 5:15.
Regular admission is free the first Tuesday of the month (special exhibition fees still apply). Adult admission $10, youth admission (13-17) $6, children are free. Special exhibition tickets are an additional $10 each.
A ticket bought at the Legion guarantees free admission on the same day to the de Young.