Paley Pictures Dazzle, Six Cities Seek Renown: SF Art

'The Seed of the Areoi'
"The Seed of the Areoi" (1892) by Paul Gauguin. The painting depicts the artist's mistress in Tahiti. Source: Museum of Modern Art, New York via Bloomberg

The naked beauty sits on a blue blanket, a large flowering seed in her hand and a collection of colorful fruit at her feet, looking like a Venus of the South Pacific.

William S. Paley bought Paul Gauguin’s portrait of his Tahitian teenage mistress, and “The Seed of the Areoi” (1892) now greets visitors to the exhibition of his collection at the de Young museum in San Francisco.

The son of a Chicago cigar manufacturer who became co-founder and longtime chairman of CBS Corp., Paley (1901-1990) assembled a dazzling array of Post-Impressionist and modern works, which wound up at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

This exhibition features more than 60 works, including Pablo Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-06), a huge canvas from the artist’s realist “rose” period, and Henri Matisse’s “Odalisque With a Tambourine” (1925-26), in which an enigmatic nude lounges in a green-and-yellow striped chair with her left arm draped over her head.

Luminous Cezanne

Paul Cezanne is well represented by pictures including the luminous still life “Milk Can and Apples” (1879-80), a fine “Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat” (1875-76) -- Paley’s first acquisition -- and the muscular landscape “L’Estaque” (1879-83), with the green and brown mountains of southern France tumbling down to the blue Mediterranean.

Other highlights include two large and impressive portraits by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and a simple still life of a vase of flowers by Henri Rousseau that manages to convey some of the strangeness of his famous jungle pictures.

The show concludes with Andre Derain’s “Bridge Over the Riou” (1906), a spectacular landscape in which the trees are rendered in orange and blue, and the three-dimensional space bends in a weird foreshortening that makes the scene almost abstract.

World Tour

A group exhibition of contemporary art is normally a hit-or-miss affair, and “Six Lines of Flight” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is no exception.

The show brings together more than 60 works by 19 artists in six locales -- ranging from Beirut to Ho Chi Minh City. The underlying theme is that these places support lively art scenes, and while they may not be New York, Paris or Shanghai, they’re not “peripheral” either.

Some of the works are didactic or conceptual or simply muddled. Others get to the point.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have produced a mordant series of faux postcards of the Beirut beachfront -- “The Lebanon Riviera” -- in which the photographs appear to have been scorched or melted to suggest the buildings are on fire.

Wilson Diaz in Cali, Colombia contributes a series of subtle gray photorealist drawings of people in the countryside who may or may not be involved in the cocaine trade. The work suggests more than it explains.

Beauty is not the principal goal in most of these works, though the intricate, hand-colored maps made by Tiffany Chung of Vietnam are lovely abstractions. It’s only when you discover what the maps represent -- earthquake zones in San Francisco, the sprawling growth of Cali -- that they take on a more ominous tone.

“The Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism” runs through Dec. 30 at the de Young museum, Golden Gate Park. Information: +1-415-750-3600;

“Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art” runs through Dec. 31 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. Information: +1-415-357-4000;

(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Greg Evans on television.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE