Art and nature in Golden Gate Park

"Monet: The Late Years" is currently on exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

Monet exhibit pairs well with surrounding gardens

San Francisco is not lacking in places to view art. From the Legion of Honor to the Asian Art Museum, there are galleries and museums in every section of the city, offering tourists and locals the chance to view permanent collections and special exhibits.

The de Young Museum, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, is one of the city’s premiere art museums. This spring it has been host to “Monet: The Late Years,” which displays almost 50 paintings created in the final phase of the French artist Claude Monet’s career.

When my uncle, who lives in the Bay Area, told my family and I about the exhibit, we arranged to take a Friday off from our busy schedules for a trek to the city.

Anyone familiar with San Francisco knows parking can be a hassle in Golden Gate Park. We drove up to Stow Lake and parked there before hiking down to the museum. While this doesn’t always work (especially during peak tourism), on a weekday there are usually spaces along the lakeshore.

Stow Lake is one of my favorite places in the park. Row and paddle boats can be rented from the Stow Lake Boathouse, where there is also a restaurant and gift shop. Walking along the riverbank, you can see plenty of wildlife—from ducks to clumps of turtles sunning themselves on half-submerged logs. On our visit, families of geese with their goslings were swimming and strolling around the lake.

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ABOVE: The man-made Huntington Falls is located at Stow Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

Crossing over one of bridges to the island, you can find Huntington Falls, which spills over Strawberry Hill and into the lake. It’s fun to walk over the rocks where the falls pass over and climb to the top, where the man-made falls begin. A bit further, you can rest your feet at the iconic Chinese Pavilion—a gift to San Francisco from China in 1981.

We eventually made our way down a trail to the de Young Museum. A bright Monet-inspired mural welcomed us at the door, where a friendly security guard helped us inside. We had made reservations to enter “Monet: The Late Years” in the early afternoon, so we had time to see what else was going on inside.

A pleasant surprise awaited us: “Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey” was also running. The incredible display of works by French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) included some of his most famous works. It was a unique exhibit which followed his artistic life and journeys across the world.

The entrance of “Monet: The Late Years” featured an early-process photograph of Claude Monet in his garden, along with his brilliant quote: “Beyond painting and gardening, I am good for nothing.”

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ABOVE: A young boy studies a painting by Claude Monet at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

Footage of Monet painting in his garden was projected onto the wall. I watched the silent film for a long while, wondering what had been on the man’s mind on that particular day.

“Monet: The Late Years” features works from 1913 to 1926. Monet, who had traveled extensively, mostly worked from his home in Giverny, France at this time. He worked on series of paintings of water lilies, Japanese bridges, roses and other natural settings that surrounded his home.

Walking through the chronological exhibit, you can see how Monet evolved, how he was experimenting, and also the point where he began to lose part of his eyesight, changing color palettes drastically.

Seeing both Gauguin and Monet on the same afternoon was quite a treat—but our day did not end there. When you’re at the de Young, you must take a trip up the Hamon Observation Tower. At the top is a spectacular, 360 degrees panoramic view of San Francisco.

After leaving the museum, we strolled next door to the Japanese Tea Garden. The entrance fee is $9 for general admission, with discounts for seniors, youth and San Francisco residents.

Meandering through the beautiful garden, you can climb over steep bridges, hike up and down steps leading to tall pagodas and view the large, colorful koi fish who gather in the ponds’ shallows.

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ABOVE: Large koi gather near the bank of a pond at San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden. (Johanna Miller/Register-Pajaronian)

After our walk, our family paid a visit to the garden’s lovely teahouse. I had a cup of Genmaicha tea and we shared a plate of various cookies. The peaceful sitting was a nice way to end our time in the park.

San Francisco is a bustling, busy metropolis—but it’s unique in that it offers plenty of ways to escape urban life. I thought, as I wandered up through a grove of redwoods and back to our car, that Monet would probably have appreciated the beauty of Golden Gate Park—and be glad his art was displayed there.

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“Monet: The Late Years” will run through May 27. “Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey” will run until June 23. Tickets are available at deyoung.famsf.org. For information on Golden Gate Park visit goldengatepark.com.

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