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Palace of Fine Arts

The Fine Arts Palace has been more admired, probably, than any other architectural unit at the Exposition. The reasons are not far to seek. The architect has used those classic forms which for ages have been recognized as best suited to monumental structures, and yet he has used them with originality. The building is classically noble, but without classic austerity or coldness. It is at once beautiful in form, rich in decorative detail, and satisfyingly warm in color. Moreover, it has the finest setting of all the Exposition buildings. The bigness of conception, the boldness with which the largest architectural elements have been handled, the perfect arrangement of architecture, planting, and reflecting waters - all these combine to create the most compelling picture on the grounds.

The arrangement of the building is deceptive. As one looks at it across the lagoon, it seems like a single unit, so well does the planting tie it together, though there are really four unconnected structures: the rotunda, two detached peristyles at the sides, and the art gallery proper at the back.


The style of architecture is Classic, freely treated. The rotunda is Roman. The peristyle is more Greek in feeling, in the simplicity of general form, with splendidly modeled capitals, full strong columns, and dignified cornice. The curved facade of the main building, facing the rotunda and peristyle, is very original in its arrangement of classic architectural motives and masses of foliage, with a Pompeian pergola on top.

The color scheme of the whole building is worthy of study. And although the structure when seen by day deserves all the praise that has been bestowed upon it, by night its beauty is beyond description. One should sit long at the edge of the lagoon opposite the rotunda, and watch the illuminated building itself and its reflection in the waters below, to feel the full spell of it. No one should miss, either, the walk between the peristyle and the main building on one of those nights when there is soft local illumination, for nowhere else on the grounds has the poetry of lighting been so perfectly realized.

The architect of the Fine Arts Palace was Bernard R. Maybeck, a Californian.


The sculpture about the lagoon, including that under the peristyle and rotunda, is to be treated in the next chapter, except that which is definitely a part of the building's integral decorative scheme.

The reliefs outside the rotunda, on the attic above the cornice, represent man's effort to gain the ideal of art. To see these reliefs best, one should stand directly across the lagoon from the rotunda. In the panel facing East one sees the figure of Art personified. On either side is a group showing the champions of art combating centaurs, that stand for the commonplace, materialistic things of life. In the next panel to the left, facing Southeast, is represented the bridling of the winged horse Pegasus, which to the Greeks symbolized the attainment of poetic inspiration. Here also are figures representing the arts of literature, sculpture and music, by the familiar symbols, a lamp, a statuette and a lute. The panel to the right of the center one shows Apollo, sun-god and patron-god of the arts, drawn in his chariot, with a procession of devotees. These panels are repeated on the other five faces about the dome. They are among the finest reliefs on the Exposition buildings, and are by Bruno Louis Zimm.

The figures within the rotunda, surmounting the eight columns are "Priestesses of Culture," by Herbert Adams.

The flower-box sculptures are by Ulric H. Ellerhusen - both those on the ground and those at the corners of the boxes surmounting the peristyle. The ladies on the latter, looking so steadily into the boxes, do not represent "Curiosity." The plan was to have masses of foliage overflowing, and half-covering the figures; and when this was given up, the decorative women gave the unexpected impression of being deeply absorbed in something happening out of sight of the spectator below. An explanation which has gained some currency is that the figures represent "Introspection," which seems quite apropos.

The kneeling figure (unnamed) on the edge of the lagoon before the rotunda is by Ralph Stackpole. It is one of the most appealing bits of all the Exposition sculpture, well expressing devotion and reverence. It cannot be reached from the rotunda side, this portion of the shore being closed to the public.

The figure over the doorway of the gallery is Leo Lentelli's "Aspiration." During the early months of the Exposition this statue was suspended from behind, the base on which it now stands having been placed late in the Spring. As the figure first appeared, hanging in air, it caused more comment than any other sculpture on the grounds. The most appropriate explanation was that since the figure lacked any visible means of support it probably was meant to represent "California Art." Even the recent alterations have failed to save it from seeming graceless and out of place.

Mural Paintings

The eight panels in the dome of the rotunda are by Robert Reid. There are two series of four paintings each, called "The Birth and Influence of Art," and "The Four Gold's of California." They form perhaps the least interesting of the several groups of murals, being vague in meaning, unpleasantly restless in composition, and only occasionally attractive in coloring.

The easiest panel to identify is that called "The Birth of Oriental Art," which is on the west wall, closest to the doorway of the main building. Starting with this and following around the dome to the right, the pictures are in this order:

1. The Birth of Oriental Art. A man in armor on a fanciful, dragon is attacking an eagle, symbolizing man's effort to attain the inspiration of the heavens. Below, China can be recognized in the man with a brilliant colored robe, and Japan in the woman with the bright parasol.

2. Gold is symbolized by a woman with a wand, on a cornucopia overflowing with gold.

3. The Ideals of All Art. The ideals which animate artists are shown: Truth with her glass; Religion typified in the Madonna and child; Beauty, with the peacock; and the Militant Ideal with a flag. Above and below are figures carrying the wreath and the palm, the artist's tokens of success in attaining the ideal.

4. Poppies, the second "gold" of California.

5. The Birth of European Art. Four figures surround an altar on which burns the sacred fire, three being merely attendants preserving the flame, and the fourth the guardian holding high a torch lit at the altar. A man from earth grasps this torch as he leans from his flying chariot. A woman in the lower corner holds a crystal gazing-globe, wherein the future of art has been revealed, and she turns to gaze after the man who is carrying the sacred fire to earth.

6. Citrus Fruits, the third "gold" of California.

7. The Inspiration of All Art. Two Angels of Inspiration are at the top, while below to the left are Sculpture, with a winged statuette, and Architecture, with the scroll and compass; and to the right, Painting, with brush and palette, Music, with a lyre, and Poetry, with a book.

8. Wheat, the fourth "gold" of California.

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