Legion of Honor (museum)

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Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor at night.jpg
Legion of Honor (museum) is located in San Francisco
Legion of Honor (museum)
Location within San Francisco
Legion of Honor (museum) is located in California
Legion of Honor (museum)
Legion of Honor (museum) (California)
Legion of Honor (museum) is located in the United States
Legion of Honor (museum)
Legion of Honor (museum) (the United States)
Location100 34th Avenue, San Francisco, California, United States of America
Coordinates37°47′02″N 122°30′04″W / 37.78389°N 122.50111°W / 37.78389; -122.50111Coordinates: 37°47′02″N 122°30′04″W / 37.78389°N 122.50111°W / 37.78389; -122.50111
TypeArt museum
Visitors177,608 (2010) [1]
Public transit accessSan Francisco Municipal Railway

The Legion of Honor (formerly known as The California Palace of the Legion of Honor) is a part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco[2] (FAMSF). The name is used both for the museum collection and for the building in which it is housed.


Statue of El Cid silhouetted by a solar corona in front of the Legion.

The Legion of Honor was the gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of the sugar magnate and thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder Adolph B. Spreckels.[3] The building is a full-scale replica, by George Applegarth and Henri Guillaume, of the French Pavilion at the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition, which in turn was a three-quarter-scale version of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur--also known as the Hôtel de Salm--in Paris, by Pierre Rousseau (1782). At the close of the exposition, which was located just a few miles away, the French government granted Spreckels permission to construct a permanent replica of the French Pavilion, but World War I delayed the groundbreaking until 1921.[4]

The museum building occupies an elevated site in Lincoln Park in the northwest of the city, with views over the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the surrounding Lincoln Park Golf Course is on the site of a potter's field called the "Golden Gate Cemetery" that the City had bought in 1867. The cemetery was closed in 1908 and the bodies were relocated to Colma. During seismic retrofitting in the 1990s, however, coffins and skeletal remains were unearthed.[5]

"Between March 1992 and November 1995—its seventy-first anniversary—the Legion underwent a major renovation that included seismic strengthening, building systems upgrades, restoration of historic architectural features, and an underground expansion that added 35,000 square feet. Visitor services and program facilities increased, without altering the historic façade or adversely affecting the environmental integrity of the site. The architects chosen to accomplish this challenging feat were Edward Larrabee Barnes and Mark Cavagnero."[6]

The plaza and fountain in front of the Legion of Honor is the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway, the first improved road for automobiles across America. The terminus marker and an interpretive plaque are located in the southwest corner of the plaza and fountain, just to the left of the Palace. Dominating the classical plaza is "Pax Jerusalemme," a modern sculpture by Mark di Suvero.[7][8]


The Legion of Honor displays a collection spanning more than 6,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassical building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

European art[edit]

The Adolph B. and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels Gallery showcasing sculptures of Auguste Rodin

The museum contains a representative collection of European art, the largest portion of which is French. Its most distinguished collection is of sculpture by Auguste Rodin. Casts of some of his most famous works are on display, including one of The Thinker in the Court of Honor. However, there are individual works by many other artists, including François Boucher, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, David, El Greco, Giambattista Pittoni, Rubens, and many of the Impressionists and post-ImpressionistsDegas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Seurat, Cézanne and others. There are also representative works by key 20th century figures such as Braque and Picasso, and works of contemporary artists like Gottfried Helnwein and Robert Crumb.

The museum's contemporary art initiative brings the work of living artists into dialogue with the buildings and collections of the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor, with exhibitions such as Urs Fischer and Sarah Lucas in juxtaposition with the museum's acclaimed Rodin collection to commemorate the centenary of Rodin's death in 1917.[9]

The Grand Canal, Venice, 1908 by Claude Monet.

Collection highlights[edit]

Symphonic organ[edit]

In 1924, John D. Spreckels commissioned the Ernest M. Skinner Company of Boston to build the symphonic organ. The museum organ, which is housed inside the museum above the main galleries, has 4 manuals and pedals, 7 divisions, 63 ranks, with a total of 4,526 pipes. Symphonic music is especially effective on the museum organ with its battery of pneumatically operated percussion instruments and set of tubular chimes. A thunder pedal is used for the musical representation of storms. All together, the organ comprises one Great Organ, a Swell Organ, a Choir Organ featuring a 16-foot Contra Dulciana, Choir Organ Echo, a Solo Organ, Solo Organ Echo, an Arch Organ outfitted with 8-foot Arch Clarion, a 64-foot Gravissima and a 32-foot Bourdon Profunda, in addition to the final Traps that were enclosed in the Choir: Bass drum, castanets, Chinese block, crash cymbal, gong snare drum (f), snare drum (ff), and a tambourine triangle.


Film appearances[edit]

  • The Palace is seen in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo (1958) when Scottie follows Madeleine Elster to the museum, where she stares at one painting for a considerable time. This painting, dubbed Beautiful Carlotta, was a prop created specifically for the production and is not housed at the museum.
  • The Palace appears in the 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, based on the first of the Tales of the City series of novels by Armistead Maupin. The character of Mary Ann Singleton (played by Laura Linney) arranges to meet her neighbor Norman Neal Williams (played by Stanley DeSantis) at the museum, where he meets his fate.
  • The character Dr. Crippen in the spoof Maltese Falcon sequel The Black Bird has an office in the Palace.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Exhibition and museum attendance figures 2010" (PDF). London: The Art Newspaper. April 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  2. ^ "Fine Arts Museums San Francisco". legionofhonor.famsf.org.
  3. ^ "About ArtPoint". Archived from the original on 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  4. ^ "History of California Palace of the Legion of Honor".
  5. ^ Sullivan, Kathleen (1995-01-19). "Remains of S.F. pioneers are laid to new, final rest". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  6. ^ "History of the Legion of Honor". Legion of Honor. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  7. ^ "A Legion of Concerns Over Sculpture / Di Suvero's mediocre `Pax Jerusalem' may signal a troubling trend at Fine Arts Museums". San Francisco Chronicle.
  8. ^ Robinson, Walter. "San Francisco Sketchy". www.artnet.com.
  9. ^ "Urs Fischer takes over the Legion of Honor". Juxtapoz. April 22, 2017. Retrieved June 26, 2017.

External links[edit]