With the exhibition “Artistic San Francisco,” Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco curator James A. Ganz has realized at least one of his longtime goals: to compile and display wide and varied artistic representations of The City.
“The San Francisco Bay Area landscape is a monumental work in progress, with the sea sculpting the shoreline, subterranean plates grinding each other, and rolling blankets of fog nourishing the coastal forests,” he says.
Ganz cast a wide net, noting that the region’s striking topography — “from the uninhabited Farallon Islands well outside the Golden Gate to Mount Tamalpais rising above Marin County” — and its distinctive quality of light attracted 19th-century landscape painters as well as artists from Scotland (William Keith), Denmark (Joachim Ferdinand Richardt), Switzerland (Gottardo Piazzoni) and elsewhere.
The show’s variety is great. Paintings, drawings, silver prints and lithographs illustrate different eras and landscapes. Carleton Watkins’ 1868 silver print from a glass negative is a stunning panorama of the (bridgeless) Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill.
An 1894 view of the International Exposition in Golden Gate Park is on view, as well as painter David Park’s 1933 watercolor of the making of a sea wall in the Marina.
Wayne Thiebaud, Chiura Obata and Eadweard Muybridge are among the better-known artists whose works are on view.
Notable are Thiebaud’s 1987 “Hill Street” and 1975 “Towards Twin Peaks from 538 Utah (Back Window),” an amazing view from the painter’s Potrero Hill home in which a wedge of The City is pictured against a big sky with huge cotton-candy clouds.
The exhibit — as previous Ganz-curated shows at the Legion, such as “Impressionist Paris” — opens windows to history.
Angelo A. Sottosanti’s 1941 “San Francisco Outdoor Art Exhibit,” for example, illustrates the New Deal’s support of artists during the Great Depression.
Between 1933 and 1943, hundreds of local artists survived and created new works on the federal payroll. They included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Ray Boynton, David Chun and Marian Simpson.
The most elaborate mural project was inside Coit Tower, which opened during the worst period of the Great Depression. The decoration program for the interior was funded by the federal Public Works of Art Project; it employed 26 painters collaborating in the creation of the spectacle in the tower’s cylindrical structure.
Ganz’s appealing new book “Artistic San Francisco,” which serves as a catalog for the exhibition, contains many works not on display. Among them is a 1900 silver print — a photo that looks like a painting — of the towering second Cliff House, which burned to the ground in 1907.
The book also includes a large 1857 etching of The City created by French artist Charles Meryon on commission by French real estate speculators, which has a bizarre story. The artist never set foot here, but created a wonderful panoramic etching from daguerreotypes supplied by his patrons.
IF YOU GO
Where: Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; closes Jan. 22
Tickets: $6 to $10
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.legionofhonor.org