The de Young, San Francisco’s oldest museum, is housed in a strikingly modern copper-sheathed building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. The building, which opened to the public in 2005, provides San Francisco with a landmark that integrates the museum’s superb art collections, architectural innovation, and the natural landscape in one multifaceted destination.
The de Young’s collection of American paintings, sculptures and decorative arts includes works from the 17th century to the present, representing a range of cultures and artistic movements, including Native American and Spanish colonial art, the Federal style, Hudson River School, Impressionism, Modernism, Surrealism, Abstract, Pop, and Contemporary. Works purchased from the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 form the core of the museum’s fine Oceanic art collection, which includes New Zealand Maori wood carvings, carved and textile works from Indonesia, rare paintings by Australian Aboriginal artists, and masterworks of New Guinea art from the Jolika collection. Art of the Americas includes the largest group of Teotihuacan murals outside of Mexico, while the textile arts collection features more than 13,000 textiles and costumes from around the world.
The de Young has its roots in the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, which San Francisco Chronicle publisher M.H. de Young helped bring to San Francisco. After the exposition closed, its profits were used to convert the Egyptian revival-style Fine Arts Building into a permanent museum, called the Memorial Museum, which opened in 1895. The collection consisted of objects from the fair and de Young’s personal collections, as well as many artifacts of the Gold Rush era donated by San Franciscans. This building was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake, and de Young donated funds to build a new wing, completed in 1919; a central tower and another wing were added later. In 1921 the name was changed to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. The original Egyptian-style structure was demolished in 1929.
In 1989, another earthquake, the Loma Prieta, badly damaged this de Young building. Deemed unsafe, it was closed in 2000; construction on the new building began in 2003. The new de Young is noted for its perforated copper skin, which will acquire a patina over time. Outdoor landscaping incorporates elements from the old museum, including the sphinx sculptures and the Pool of Enchantment, with new features such as the public sculpture garden and children’s garden. The public observation floor at the top of the building’s 144-foot tower provides panoramic views of Golden Gate Park and the city.
The de Young Museum is situated on the Music Concourse just east of the Japanese Tea Garden, at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.