by Ken Stein, June 2022
5 vintage postcards of Le Penseur
‘The Thinker’ at The French Pavilion, Golden Gate Park, and the California Palace Of The Legion Of Honor ...
Or, for somebody who has spent over a hundred years sitting down, he sure does get around ...
Or, what’s with the ’Honor’ in The Legion Of Honor ...
(And what does The Reign Of Terror and a guillotine have to do with any and all of this?!)
Little known, but before Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ was moved to its permanent home at the then-newly constructed Palace Of The Legion of Honor in 1924, it had been sitting on a big rock for nine years near the Golden Gate Park Conservatory.
Statue of The Thinker and the Conservatory, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco Calif.
“The Thinker” Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Calif.
And before that, it had been at the French Pavilion in the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.
The French Pavilion, Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco 1915.
Postcard Back: French Pavilion at Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915. — The French Pavilion is a copy of the home of Prince de Salm. The entrance is a triumphal arch flanked by rows of Ionic Columns with two figures of Fame in bas-relief occupying the spandrel. The main building is 349X 256 feet and 35 feet high.
The Thinker – French pavilion – P.P.I.E., 1915
Postcard Back: Manufactured by Cardinell Vincent Co., Photographers and Publishers San Francisco, Calif., Official Photographers P.P.I.E
THE THINKER EXHIBIT, COURT OF THE FRENCH PAVILION — It is a satisfaction that at the entrance to the pavilion of France should stand this great work of the master sculptor of our age. This is a replica of “Le Penseur“ (The Thinker), placed before the doors of the pantheon in Paris ...
Photo by Cardinell Vincent Co., in “The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition, 1915”
Evident especially in this great photo, the musculature, so authentically articulated! Rodin had to spend years defending himself against unfounded accusations that he had plaster-cast his work from live models.
The French Pavilion at PPIE was located just south of the Palace Of Fine Arts, in the Marina District.
As noted, the French Pavilion was modeled after the Hotel de Salm, aka “L’Hôtel deSalm, Palais De la Légion d’honneur”.
1839 gravure print – VUE EXTÉRIEURE de l’HÔTEL de SALM, côte de la rue
Aerial View, the French Pavilion at PPIE.
Photo courtesy, SFPL California Room
It’s amusing to note that the Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco, (FAMSF), tiptoeing around the issue, notes that The French Pavilion “was a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, one of the distinguished 18th-century landmarks on the left bank of the Seine. The Hôtel de Salm, as it was first called, was designed by Pierre Rousseau in 1782 for the Prince of Salm-Krybourg. Completed in 1788, it was not destined to serve long as a royal residence; the German prince, whose fortunes fell with the French Revolution, lived there only one year.”
“Lived there only one year” and “Fortunes fell” being quite the understatements, it being his head that fell in The Reign Of Terror, hence resulting in the early termination of his lease on life.
Ref: History of the Legion of Honor
L' Hôtel de Salm, Palais De La Legion d'Honneur has housed the seat of the French Legion of Honor since 1804 and was eventually renamed Palais de la Légion d’Honneur.” It is still a very big deal. As is its second San Francisco cousin, The California Palace Of The Legion Of Honor.
Book Cover: “Le Hôtel De Salm, Palais de la Legion d’honneur,” Editions Monelle Hayot, 2009, 383 pps.
Three Rare French San Francisco Bronze Medallions
At the time of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, the French Republic paid tribute to both PPIE and The French Pavilion by issuing two bronze commemorative medallions. The first one was actually, at least in part, a carryover of a medal done by the great French sculptor and medalist Henri Bottée, which was issued by the Paris Mint after the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
The 1906 Medallion
On one side: “To the people in City of San Francisco. Sympathy and Admiration [from] The French Republic”
And on the other side: “San Francisco 1906”
It portrays Marianne, standing amidst the devastation, with the ruins of City Hall near the horizon on the left
Marianne ... Who knew?! Per Wiki: Marianne has been the national personification of the French Republic since the French Revolution, as a personification of liberty, equality, fraternity and reason, as well as a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty.”
In France, she is everywhere and has been a part of France’s cultural, political, and aesthetic life for centuries. Please Google search ‘Marianne ’ and also ‘Marianne and the Statue Of Liberty’. Oh.
And then In 1915, Bottée produced a bronze placard medal in honor San Francisco’s rebuilding as well as the Exposition.
On one side, he reproduced the previous earthquake image from his 1906 medallion.
“San Francisco – 1906”
And on the other side, The French Pavilion in situ At PPIE:
“Palais de la France,” with a panorama of the Exposition in the background.
Text: “Opening of the Panama Canal, Palace of France, World International Exposition San Francisco, 1915, French Committee of Expositions Abroad.”
The second PPIE medallion (artist unknown) features the French Pavilion on one side ...
“Republique Francaise, San Francisco Cal, AD MDCCCCXV”
And on the other:
"Panama – Pacific – International – Exposition – San – Francisco California - Feb To Dec – A.D. 1915”
On the left side, there is a map of Panama with the words ‘Panama Canal’ running across the Isthmus. .
On the right side, is the Tower Of Jewels. And across the bottom is a scroll with the barely readable words: Liberté – Equalité -Fraternité.
When the fair closed in December of 1915, The Thinker was installed in Golden Gate Park.
The Thinker, Golden Gate Park San Francisco Cal.
After which Alma Spreckels “persuaded her husband to recapture the beauty of the pavilion as a new art museum for San Francisco. At the close of the 1915 Exposition, the French government granted them permission to construct a permanent replica, but World War I delayed the groundbreaking for this ambitious project until 1921. Constructed on a remote site known as Land’s End, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was completed in 1924, and on Armistice Day of that year the doors opened to the public.” (FAMSF)
California Palace Of The Legion of Honor, San Francisco California
Postcard Back: “Overlooking the broad Pacific is the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. This unique edifice is a perfect replica of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Paris, the gift of a devoted citizen in honor of San Franciscans who fell in the world war. Constantly changing exhibits of the arts, rare books and a magnificent organ are among its attractions.”
And thus it was, that The Thinker had at last come to stay, in The Court Of Honor at the Legion.
THE THINKER – by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), French School. California Palace of the Legion of Honor Lincoln Park, San Francisco.
Alma and Adolph B. Spreckels were far from the first Americans to appreciate Le Palais de la Légion d’Honneur. As noted in the book, “L’Hôtel De Salm, Palais De la Légion d’honneur”, when Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France from 1785-1789, he “came daily to make sketches of the Hôtel de Salm from the Tuileries garden located on the opposite bank of the Seine, and was inspired by it for his residence in Monticello.”
“Court Of Honor – ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin in foreground. The California Palace The Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California.”
Aerial View: “The Golden Gate Bridge” From Lincoln Park” in “L’Hotel De Salmm” (2009)
Of note ... Just outside of the entrance to the Legion Of Honor is the beautiful statue of Joan Of Arc by Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Joan Of Arc, Bright Daylight Silhouette
Photo by Ken Stein
Real Photo postcard , ca 1927 – Jeanne D’Arc statue, Lincoln Park San Francisco
California Palace of the Legion of Honor Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Joan of Arc, Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington in foreground
In its final chapter – ‘Le Palais Et Sa Postérité’ – the book “L’Hôtel Se Salm” highlights the California Palace Of The Legion Of Honor, saying, “Quand le modèle est si joli, la tentation de le copier est forte.” When the model is so pretty, the temptation to copy it is strong.
C’est vrai. (Word)
The Thinker Snow Globe
“Unfortunately, there is a side of Rodin's work that has become kitsch through cheap reproductions and commercial rip-offs.” – Joseph Phelan, The ArtCyclopedia
Personally, I’d say fortunately.
History of the Legion of Honor
The Sculpture and Mural Decorations of the Exposition, A.Sterling Calder, described by Stella G. S. Perry, Paul Elder and Company, San Francisco, 1915, 205 pps.
The French Pavilion – On this day April 9 - Panama-Pacific International Exposition
Le Hôtel De Salm, Palais de la Legion d’honneur, Editions Monelle Hayot, Saint-Rémy-en-L’eau, 2009, 383 pps.
Charles Keeler, and Some SF Earthquake Artifacts By Ken Stein