Alma Spreckels was the sugar queen of San Francisco – she married well from extremely humble beginnings, and quickly became one of the leading ladies of the city, widely influential in creating culture as well as in fighting for working San Franciscans – her likeness now sits atop a pole in Union Square. She amassed a huge collection of sculptures by the great August Rodin, whom she knew, and gave it to a museum that she and her husband also created – the very special Palace of the Legion of Honor. The Palace is a beautiful place, and indeed it is now home to the largest collection of Rodins outside of the museum dedicated to the master.
Despite my passion for art and my many trips to San Francisco, I had never been inside this museum before this recent Memorial Day weekend visit – I have been to the beautiful grounds several times before, where there is a powerful work by George Segal memorializing the victims of the Holocaust. There is also a large statue of Rodin’s Thinker in the courtyard that I’ve enjoyed for many years.
But I was wholly unprepared to walk into this phenomenal space. In addition to amazing works by mostly old and wonderful European masters like El Greco (three hanging in a row!) and De La Tour and Rembrandt, the Palace is home to a large pipe organ, installed in “Rodin Gallery.” On our recent visit, there was a concert happening – they don’t close the galleries, rather visitors walk through the museum with the organ music in the background. The pipes for the organ go up behind the walls of the Rodin Gallery and project upward into the magnificent ceiling of the hall. To walk amongst Rodin’s evocative, organic, and intimately human bronzes while baroque organ music blasts out of the walls of this inspiring place was magical – an amazing gift of a truly memorable experience on what happened to be my 39th birthday.
We only had about an hour in the museum, but I could have sat amongst the art listening to that organ all day. I’m quite happy to have discovered a new favorite place in San Francisco; I can’t imagine why it took me so long to walk inside.
Thanks for reading.