In 2009, senior registrar Stephen Lockwood came across a series of ledger books while examining the de Young’s offsite storage facility. These antique books contained detailed records of the weather and daily attendance at the de Young since its opening day in 1895. One entry was particularly interesting:
Attributed to Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900)
Our Banner in the Sky, ca. 1861
Oil on paper mounted on paper board
7 13/16 x 11 13/16 inches
Exactly 150 years ago today on April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began in earnest. At 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries on the shores of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, the Federal-held fortification that dominated the harbor after commander Major Robert Anderson refused its surrender. The resulting bombardment went on for 34 hours, with Confederate artillerists lobbing over 3,000 rounds of shot and shell in the fort's direction. While the fort's masonry walls were battered and many of its wooden buildings were set alight, there were no fatal casualties on either side during the engagement. Ironically, two Union soldiers were killed when ammunition was accidentally ignited during the 100-gun salute to Fort Sumter's tattered but intact American flag.
It is this flag that is thought to be depicted in the de Young's Our Banner in the Sky, believed to have been created in 1861 by American landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church. Major Anderson took Fort Sumter's flag with him back to the North, where it became the focal point of numerous patriotic rallies, the first of which took place in New York City's Union Square. With over 100,000 attendees, it was the largest public gathering in the United States to date. The celebrity flag toured countless cities throughout the North, where it raised funds for the war effort by being auctioned off. The winner naturally donated the flag back to the nation to be auctioned off again at the next rally. In April of 1865, Anderson, now a major general, returned to Fort Sumter and raised the flag over its ruins as part of the celebration of the Union's victory.
In case you missed it, here's the archived audio of Balenciaga and Spain guest curator and Vogue European editor-at-large Hamish Bowles as he discussed the exhibition and the life and work of Cristóbal Balenciaga on KQED's Forum.
As Bouquets to Art kicks off its 27th year at the de Young, floral exhibitors poured in with every type of flower and foliage imaginable. We followed floral artist Hiromi Nomura of Belle Flora, who was born and raised in Tokyo, to trace the day in the life of a flower and pay tribute to Japan following last week’s devastating earthquake.
One of the rarest pieces in our Olmec exhibition at the de Young is a carved human bust made of a tropical variety of cedar tree. Over three thousand years old, the bust has survived this long because it was buried at the bottom of a freshwater bog for most of its life.
Archaeologists believe it was placed in the bog, along with thirty-six other busts, by the Olmec as part of a large offering, probably in response to a long-term problem facing the community, such as a flood or drought. The busts were bundled in vegetable mats and buried along with other objects of high value—some of which are also in the exhibition.
Researchers think the Olmec chose the spring, named El Manatí for a nearby hill and the manatees that were abundant in the area, as a site for important offerings because it represented a culmination of important elements. The Olmec believed water and mountains were imbued with sacred qualities, including fertility, and saw tall hills both as a meeting point between the earth and the sky and as “mansions of the rain god.” The area was also abundant in hematite, an iron-rich red pigment that researchers believe the Olmec associated with blood.
Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778–1860), George Washington, ca. 1850.
Oil on canvas. 53.15.1
Presenting the first blog post by communications intern Gauthier Melin.
The Chinese artist Shi Guorui produced this photograph of the Donner Pass by creating a pinhole camera obscura. The photographic method is just like the oatmeal container pinhole camera you might have made in grade school, but on a much larger scale. The artist put a single small hole in the side of an otherwise light-sealed semi-trailer truck. The light rays passed through this small hole forming an inverted image on a long, curved sheet of sensitized photographic paper. We were told that the artist meditated during the hours-long exposure time.
At 4 feet 2 inches x 17 feet 2 inches, Donner Pass is one of the largest photographs in the Museums’ collection. Due to its unique size, installation required much advanced planning to come up with a method of hanging that was not only safe for the photograph, but also met the visions of the artist and curators. As the artist preferred the immediacy of the uncovered photograph placed directly on the wall, a tailored system of hinging materials and frame installation methods was devised by the paper conservation laboratory to safely meet this vision.
After much preparation, the day of installation had arrived.
Regulars to the permanent galleries at the de Young will notice a new addition to Gallery 23 on the upper gallery level—the anonymous painting titled Robert, Calvin, Martha, and William Scott and Mila, ca. 1843–1845. The painting depicts the children of Reverend William Anderson Scott (1813–1885), a Presbyterian minister in New Orleans from 1842 to 1854. The spire of the First Presbyterian Church where Dr. Scott was pastor is visible at the center of the city’s skyline.