The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announce a generous bequest of three paintings from the estate of Diana Dollar Knowles: “Sunflowers along the Seine” (ca. 1885–1886) by Gustave Caillebotte, and “Ruins with Prophet” and “Ruins with Sibyl” (both 1731) by Giovanni Paolo Panini. These additions represent the first examples of each artist’s work to enter the collections of the Fine Arts Museums.
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“Sunflowers along the Seine” by Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894) is a dynamic composition in which a frieze of golden sunflowers dwarfs a view of sparkling water with a floating, white pavilion moored at the riverbank in the background. An accomplished sailor and boat designer, Caillebotte purchased a home along the Seine, at Petit-Gennevilliers, near Argenteuil, a popular site for regattas. The flowers, which feature prominently in this depiction, and the lively color palette Caillebotte used for this subject, suggest his passion for the garden that he cultivated there. The artist often used his garden for painting en plein air to capture the effects of radiant daylight, which are conveyed here in rhythmic brushwork across the water’s surface.
The bequest also includes two pendant paintings, “Ruins with Prophet” and “Ruins with Sibyl,” by Giovanni Paolo Panini (Italian, 1691–1765), an artist who worked in Rome and became famous for his depictions of that city. This pair of architectural fantasies, known as capricci — displayed in their original, hand-carved, Venetian frames — portray classical ruins, which the artist embellished with figures and animals.
Panini received his early training from painters of theatrical scenery, developing skills that served him well in these detailed, illusionistic views. Dated in the year that Panini became a member of the French Academy in Rome, these paintings reveal the 18th-century taste for antiquity and picturesque ruins. This type of cabinet picture was popular with an international clientele of collectors, including those making the Grand Tour across Italy.
“We are extremely grateful to Mrs. Knowles for these exceptional additions to our permanent collection. The Paninis extend our very fine group of 18th-century Italian paintings, and the Caillebotte is something of a tour de force that commands attention every time you look at it,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Diana Dollar Knowles was a generous supporter of the museums and a trustee from 1986 to 1997. A passionate interest in fashion inspired her and her husband, Gorham B. Knowles, to give a significant donation in support of the textile arts galleries at the new de Young, where a room is named for them. The Louis XV period room at the Legion of Honor is also named for them in honor of a prior contribution. Mrs. Knowles was also an important patron of the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Ballet, Grace Cathedral and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
Diane B. Wilsey, president of the museums’ board of trustees, said, “I am delighted that Diana Knowles, who was a great personal friend to me and a devoted friend to the Fine Arts Museums for so many years, has continued her tradition of philanthropy with this generous bequest to the museums. Although she is no longer with us, she will continue to enrich our lives and the lives of future generations, for which we are very grateful.”
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.