THE STATE MUSEUMS OF BERLIN AND THE LEGACY OF JAMES SIMON

Now at the Legion of Honor through January 18, 2009

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

An outstanding collection of the treasures of the State Museums of Berlin that honors the contributions of patron James Simon is now at the Legion of Honor until January 18, 2009. THE STATE MUSEUMS OF BERLIN AND THE LEGACY OF JAMES SIMON is a case study of the history of collecting during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and features approximately 140 works from nine separate Berlin museums. This exhibition includes Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities, medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque sculptures, Old Master paintings, works on paper including eighteenth and nineteenth-century Japanese woodcuts, art of the Silk Road, and European folk art donated by Simon for the State Museums of Berlin. The exhibition will return for exhibition at the State Museums of Berlin after its tenure in San Francisco.

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Portrait of James Simon At The Desk In His Study, 1901. Willi Döring. Oil on canvas. — Portrait, ca. 1930

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SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN SAYS STOP THE BLANK CHECK

James Simon (1851–1932), a German Jew, was a patron of the arts, connoisseur, collector, and philanthropist best known for his sponsorship of excavations in Egypt, the Near East, and Central Asia that brought great artistic wealth from the ancient world to Berlin including the Bust of Nefertiti and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and its processional way. Dedicating his life to public welfare, Simon displayed a remarkable social commitment and created an extraordinary cultural legacy. His gift of thousands of items to the State Museums of Berlin identified him as one of Berlin’s most important patrons and elevated Berlin to the ranks of museum capitals such as London, Paris, and Vienna. His support of archaeological excavations, including the Amarna and Mesopotamia expeditions, helped to preserve some of the most rare and important objects from antiquity. “When one realizes the extent of James Simon’s gifts and his foresight in saving the art of the past, it is hard to believe this is all the result of one individual,” says Renée Dreyfus, curator in charge of ancient art and interpretation for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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RESTORED LION RELIEF – from the Processional Way in Babylon. Neo-Babylonian, 6th century B.C. Colored, glazed clay bricks, H 91 x W 232 x thickness 9.1 cm

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“The story begins in the early 1800s,” says Tim Simon, “when my great-great-grandfather, Louis Simon, and his brother, Isaak, moved to Berlin. By the late 1800s Eduard, my greatgrandfather, and his cousin, James, had taken over the family business. It grew to be the largest cotton purveyor in Europe, and the Simons became very wealthy. Eduard and James decided to turn their attention to charity, giving back to the people of Berlin one-third of their sizable annual income. This included supporting social causes as well as making large donations of art to the museums of their city. It is estimated that they gave about 20,000 objects to the State Museums of Berlin. The idea for this exhibition is the result of a family trip that my wife, Ann, and I took to Berlin in 2006. I introduced myself as the great-grandson of Eduard and was welcomed with open arms by the directors of the Berlin museums.”

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Renée Dreyfus – Curator, Ancient Art and Interpretation, FAMSF & Tim Simon, descendant of James Simon, and wife Ann

“We realized that travelers from the United States visited primarily the cultural capitals of Paris, London, Vienna, and Rome. Feeling strongly they should also know the fabulous art treasures in the Berlin museums, we suggested an exhibition that would include some of the remarkable objects donated by my family and others. First we spoke with John Buchanan, the director of the Fine Arts Museums. A!er a trip to Berlin to investigate the idea with John and his wife, Lucy, and with Renée Dreyfus, who would be the curator, the exhibition was launched. Ann and I hope this is only the beginning and look forward to seeing this exhibition again when it returns to Berlin.”

THE STATE MUSEUMS OF BERLIN AND THE LEGACY OF JAMES SIMON fills six galleries in the special exhibition galleries at the Legion of Honor with a varied collection of treasures from ancient cultures to the 19th century. Perhaps the most important patron Berlin has ever known, industrialist, philanthropist and collector James Simon (1851­–1932) created an extraordinary cultural and humanitarian legacy. Simon’s remarkable patronage and his donation of thousands of objects helped elevate the State Museums of Berlin to the ranks of world-class art institutions, and his financing of historic archaeological expeditions helped to preserve some of the rarest and most important objects from antiquity. Exceeding even his patronage of art, however, was Simon’s remarkable social commitment. Throughout his lifetime he donated a vast portion of his substantial income to innumerable causes as well as founded clinics, hospitals, and schools. Though Simon’s contributions were extraordinary, he always gave in a quiet manner, never seeking publicity. As a result, to date he has gone largely unrecognized. In 2007, however, the State Museums of Berlin presented the design for the James Simon Gallery, a new central entrance building and exhibition hall on Museum Island. Upon its completion in 2012, Museum Island will become the world’s largest museum complex, a fitting testament to the legacy of James Simon.

This incredible exhibition includes:

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SAINT CRISPIAN, ca. 1420. Unknown French Master. Walnut, H 52 x W 24 x D 28 cm

This wooden statue shows St. Crispian (beheaded in Rome, 286 CE) seated humbly on a three legged footstool, absorbed in his work. Crispian and his brother Crispin, of noble lineage, fled Rome to Soissons, northern France, to escape Emperor Diocletian’s persecution because of their faith. There they plied their newly learned trade as shoemakers for the poor while preaching Christianity. Eventually they were martyred and became patron saints of cobblers, glove makers, lace makers, lace workers, leather workers, saddle makers, tanners, and weavers.

TARQUINIUS AND LUCRETIA, After Pietro Tacca (Italian, 1577–1644). Bronze, cast by Damiano Capelli (Italian, active 1676–1705), H 40 cm

The bronze group was cast after a model by Pietro Tacca, whose works form a link between Mannerist and Baroque sculpture – where torturous poses and classical naturalism are combined. The sexual aggression captured in this dramatic scene displays a complex composition of bodies in motion. The sword renders the impending rape all the more frightening.

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SAINT MICHAEL, ca. 1663. Luca Giordano, 1634–1705. Oil on canvas, H 198 x W 147 cm

Luca Giordano was an eclectic, peripatetic, and influential Italian late-Baroque painter, who acquired a style fusing Venetian and Roman influences. Although following the manner of Caravaggio, he introduced an almost Rococo flair into paintings noted for lively and showy color, like Saint Michael as he overcomes Satan.

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QUEEN TIYE, Reign of Amenhotep III. 9 in. – HEAD OF NEFERTITI, reign of Amenhotep IV – Akhenaten, ca. 1345 B.C. Limestone, H 28.7 cm

This 18th-Dynasty sculpture was crafted during the reign of Amenhotep III. Standing nine inches, it is composed of Yew wood, silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and faience. It was a major purchase among James Simon’s Egyptian New Kingdom collection. The mother of Akhenaten, Queen Tiye is realistically depicted as middle-aged with furrowed brows. She possesses a regal and careworn look marked with an awareness of the power she wielded.

This limestone head of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s queen, comes from the same workshop of the Chief Sculptor Tuthmosis and was by the same hand as the famous Bust of Nefertiti. With black paint on its cheeks and face as sculptors’ guides, the head serves as a model for artists producing portraits of the queen. James Simon supported excavations in Amarna from 1911 to 1914. In 1912 large finds were uncovered in the workshop of Tuthmosis. The German share belonged to Simon, who first lent the treasures to the Egyptian Museum in 1913 and in 1920 designated the loans as gifts.

Click here to purchase tickets on-line: THE LEGACY OF JAMES SIMON

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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