When dynamo Dede Wilsey goes shopping, she doesn’t fool around.
In February, the Fine Arts Museums Board Director traveled to Paris with Fine Arts Museums Director John Buchanan and his wife, Lucy Buchanan, to attend the sale of tres cher objets from the private collection of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent.
But what Dede and Buchanan ended up bringing home was much more than the Sèvres breakfast service (on display at the Legion of Honor) and a little Manet to add to Dede’s personal collection of Impressionist paintings.
The dynamic duo also brought home a deal to display major works from the world-renown Musée d'Orsay here in our little burg.
In summer 2010, at least 200 works from the Orsay’s permanent collection will be on display for about nine months at de Young Museum.
The first show, The Birth of Impressionism, will concentrate on the year 1874 and following when this storied period of art first bloomed under painter Claude Monet. A second show opens in Fall 2010 and focuses on later practitioners, including Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gaugin.
Dede and Buchanan were scheduled to be in Paris for just five days and had a whirlwind itinerary of meetings, dinners and shopping.
“You never know what will transpire on these trips. You hope for the best but you’re really just fishing,” said Dede, thrilled with the results. “I was never so tired in my life, and I don’t usually get tired. We walked for miles and miles during the day. The one thing I kept thinking to myself -- ‘Well, at least I won’t gain weight on this trip’!”
“But these paintings we will have on loan are everything that I love,” enthused Dede. “Starry Night, Whistler’s Mother -- and gosh, is she a big girl!”
This transaction transpired at a dinner party one night that Parisian gallerist Waring Hopkins organized in honor of the San Franciscans. Among the guests was the new Musée d'Orsay Director Guy Cogeval, former director of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and ... an old friend of John Buchanan’s.
Buchanan and Cogeval knew each other from Buchanan’s previous tenure in Portland and worked together on the YSL and Warhol shows at the de Young.
“We’re supposed to leave Paris the next morning. Now we’re at dinner and it’s 10 o’clock at night and Guy asks us if we wouldn’t mind changing our plans to stay another day so that he might spend the day with us,” said Buchanan, who had no idea this invitation would lead to major artistic coup.
Turns out, a number of famed Paris museums will soon be temporarily closing for major renovations, including the Musée d'Orsay (a former train station) which first opened in 1987 and was re-imagined by architect Gae Aulenti (who also designed our Asian Museum of Art).
“You know,” said Guy to Buchanan, during their day wandering through the Orsay, “The museum is going to close this year. Would you like the collection?”
Next thing they knew, Dede and Buchanan were deemed the babysitters of this treasure trove.
Now before we get carried away, let's not forget: first at bat out at the de Young is King Tut.
But stay tuned: word wafting among the galleries is that a portion of another major Parisian collection by a one-named artist may also be landing in the lucky laps of Dede and Buchanan.