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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Legion of Honor's Salon Doré Revamps and Reopens

Posted By on Fri, Apr 4, 2014 at 12:59 PM

  • Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Legion of Honor's Salon Doré needed a facelift.

After eight moves, the French period room was looking tired, says Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European decorative arts and sculpture at the Legion.

Chapman, along with a team of specialists, developed the new direction for the salon, and after being closed for 18 months -- it reopens tomorrow.

"The idea was to make this more than just a traditional period room which has nice furniture from the period." He explains, "this is much more than that. This time it's interpreted as an entity."

This comprehensive approach to the room took over a year of research and reconstruction on its paint, furniture, paneling, upholstery, and gold gilding.

  • Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

"The conservation took somewhere in the region of 16-18 months. And that was just for the conservation of the paneling, the carving, the paint," he says. When it came to painstaking labor, look to the gold. "The most laborious was the gilding. That involved having several conservators working at once -- painstakingly cleaning it and then repairing it with new gold wherever necessary." This was followed by toning all the gold to the same color.

Most of the work was done by Americans in a laboratory set up in one of the galleries at the Legion of Honor that visitors had full access to. The 16 specialist who worked on the project were in communication with researchers in France to restore the room what it would have looked like during the reign of Louis XVI.

Chapman stresses the importance of this furniture program, which, as it turns out, was absolutely essential in the functioning of the room during pre-revolutionary France. The room's setup, he says, "tends to be chairs around the wall, side chairs in the middle of the room, which when used, there is a whole orchestration; there's a sort of ballet that plays out in these salons when they receive guests."

  • Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

"The idea is that the mistress of the house received these guests and it's her job to seat them according to age, precedence and gender. It's interesting," Chapman points out, "that women ruled in this case."

  • Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Although it required a painstaking task to restore the Salon Doré, its essential function during pre-revolutionary France was simple. "There was no eating, they just sat and made conversation," says Chapman.

You can check out this conversation room, and the efforts of the specialists who restored it, starting tomorrow at 9:30 a.a. ant the Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave.); it continues as a part of the permanent collection. Tickets are $6-$10; call 750-3600 or visit

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Laura Jaye Cramer at @laurajayecramer, and like us on Facebook.

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Laura Jaye Cramer


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