Home -> Other California History Books -> A Brief Guide to the Palace of Fine Arts - Panama-Pacific International Expostion - Post Exposition Period - Chapter 1

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Chapter 1.

The Central Gallery. No. 66.

The bright, even brilliant, aspect which the whole Post-Exposition exhibition displays is impressed upon you as soon as you enter the building and survey the Central Gallery. Here is struck, you might say, the chord which predominates in the orchestration of color.

The Brangwyn murals are the distinguishing feature. They are arranged in pairs around the lofty gallery. The two panels representing Fire are immediately to your left as you enter from the east—the eastern entrance being that which opens from the Lagoon side of the Palace. "Water," "Air" and "Earth" complete the scheme, going from left to right.

We are indebted to Mrs. Stella G. S. Perry for drawing freely upon her excellent description of these murals, and of their author, in her book on "The Sculpture and Murals of the Exposition."

Frank Brangwyn was born in Belgium and lives in England, but is a citizen of the world. President of the Royal Society of British Artists and an honored member of La Société des Beaux Arts, France; the Royal Academy of Milan, Italy; the Swedish Royal Academy; the Munich Secession and the Association of Spanish Artists. He holds the Great Gold Medal of honor presented by the Emperor of Austria; won the Gold Medal at Venice and the Grand Prize at Milan; medal at the Chicago Exposition. Permanently represented in the great museums of the world, including the Luxembourg, the Venice, Stuttgart, Munich, Prague, Barcelona, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Sydney, Wellington and Johannesburg museums. Among his mural decorations London Royal Exchange; Skinner's Hall; Grand Trunk Railway Offices; Venice Exhibition; Lloyd's Registry, London; Cleveland Court House; decorations for L'Art Nouveau of M. Bing; private residences.

The Subjects of the Brangwyn Murals

Each pair of panels is devoted to one of the Elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The elements are treated in relation to humanity, to their actual services to the welfare of human beings. They are not allegorical but intensely human, full of the good red blood of outdoor toilers. They tingle with the warmth of the earth, the spur of the light, the tang of the winds, the smell of growing things. They are the poetry of the simple.

Note the use of old-fashioned English flowers, as fox-gloves, iris, morning glory, wild rose, and harebell in the decorative scheme.

Fire—Two Panels

1. Primitive Fire.—In the bite of an early autumn day, the workers gather for warmth about their goodly servant, a fire. See how alive and true the thin flame mounts in the air.

2. Industrial Fire.—About the kiln, the workers employ fire for industrial service. You can see the gases coming from the baking clay, in the metallic colors of the rising cloud of smoke. Study its contrast with the sky clouds behind it, to appreciate this artist's mastery.

Water—Two Panels

1. The Net.—See the muscular force of these hardy fishermen, standing in lush reeds, hauling the last catch of the afternoon.

2. The Fountain.—Where the thin line of water juts in a graceful bow from the spring, the people have come, with their bright vessels, for water.

Air—Two Panels

1. The Hunters.—The hunters, shielded from sight by the trees at the edge of the forest, let fly their arrows. The whole scene glows in the ruddy sunlight of late afternoon. The flight of the arrows and the flying birds emphasize the thought of the sustaining air.

2. The Windmill.—The sun-gilt windmill in the midst of the wind-blown golden grain, the mounting kites, the dark wind-clouds making way for the bright rainbow, the wind-tossed garments of the workers passing by—all make this dazzling picture seem to quiver with the life of the wind.

Earth—Two Panels

1. Dancing the Grapes.—Under the generous vine, purple and green against a lustrous blue, the workers gather the great clusters and pass them down to those below. These trample out the rich juice in the great stone vat.

2. The Fruit Pickers.—In this group, so wonderfully composed, is the very spirit of the earth's abundance. The fruit pickers on high ladders, those bending low above the fertile earth, or bearing the burdens of overflowing baskets, are all aglow with strength and health and the warm light of plentitude.

(The panels are 27 feet high and 12 feet wide.)

There are two other notable mural decorations in this gallery.

Over the entrance to the North Wing, to your right as you enter from the east, is "The Victory of Culture over Force," by Arthur F. Mathews. This formerly was placed over the entrance to the Court of Four Seasons in the Court of Palms.

A native of Wisconsin, Mr. Mathews is now a leader among California artists, and is esteemed the foremost muralist in the West. Studied under Boulanger in Paris. Formerly Dean of the California School of Design. Winner of the Hopkins Institute competition for best painting of the Discovery of San Francisco Bay. Distinguished as a draughtsman. Exhibited in Paris salons and Paris and Chicago expositions. Permanent murals in the Oakland Free Library, the Lane Memorial Library, the new Masonic Temple, the Taussig and Borel residences, and many others. Celebrated for his paintings of Monterey Bay.

In this conception we see the goddess of Enlightenment spurning Brute Force from the path of Greek, Asiatic and Egyptian culture, all of whom guide the steps of the Child, the Culture of our later day.

The treatment is vigorous, straightforward and sincere, the color stimulating, and the decorative masses skillfully placed.

Over the entrance to the South Wing is a mural entitled "Fruit and flowers," by Childe Hassam, which was formerly placed over one of the entrances to the Palace of Education, in the Court of Palms. This lunette is decorative rather than symbolical. It gracefully and charmingly indicates the bright richness of California, the free grace of its abundance. It exhibits the vibrant atmosphere and color of this master of impressionism.

Over the western doorway is a large allegorical painting by Henry B. Fuller, "The Triumph of Truth over Error," a painting in which many will observe a metaphysical meaning. Over the eastern doorway is a decorative painting by a prominent Californian artist, Charles J. Dickman, a marine entitled "Before the Storm."


There is a very large and rich collection of sculpture in this gallery. Among the more striking pieces may be mentioned the large fountain in the center by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

As you go around the gallery from the eastern entrance, circling from left to right, there are, among others, the following works calling for observation: "The Nigger," by Arthur Lee; "Peace," by Henry Hering; portrait of Miss Quinn, by Amanda P. Austin; the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial by Daniel Chester French, and "Moki Maria" and "Old Moki," two studies of Indians by Joseph J. Mora, one of the vigorous group of San Francisco sculptors.

Another San Francisco sculptor, now doing well in New York, is Robert Aitken, who shows it design of "Door for Gates Mausoleum." Karl Bitter, who died tragically in New York last year, before receiving the Medal of Honor which the Exposition awarded him, is represented by three works: The "Signing of Louisiana Purchase Treaty," lent by the city of St. Louis; the "Memorial to Dr. Henry P. Tappan," lent by University of Michigan, and a fountain group, lent by John D. Rockefeller. Haig Patigian, another brilliant San Franciscan, who was a member of the jury of the Exposition, shows three characteristic pieces, his well-known "Vanity," and busts of Mrs. C. Frederick Kohl and of John Keith. Charles Grafly, the maker of the "Pioneer Mother," is represented in the gallery by "The Oarsman," and by a "Marble Head"; and there are numerous other works by Abard Fairbanks, Henry Hering, Edmond T. Quinn (who shows a bust of Edwin Markham, the poet), and severed others.

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