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Birth of Impressionism Show and Gopher Close Up

Sketches from visit to Birth of Impression, ink & colored pencil
Sketches from visit to Birth of Impression, ink & colored pencil

I’m not a fan of crowds, blockbusters or standing in line, but I put up with all the above to visit the Birth of Impressionism show in San Francisco’s De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I had planned to sketch in the park after the show but various delays only left time for these done while traveling there and back on BART and SF Muni.

I made a number of discoveries at the show and am looking forward to seeing it again, hopefully at a time when it will be less crowded. I really enjoyed many of the exquisite pre-impressionist paintings, and especially loved seeing the quite large “Whistler’s Mother” in person. Although the mother’s face appears soft and doughy, I could see in her eyes the universal worries, hope, dreams and sorrow all mothers experience.

Whistler's Mother
Whistler's Mother (click to enlarge)

I liked the detail of the little foot stool her son provided for her comfort but my niece and I chuckled about the ugly shower curtain hanging to her left. (Seriously, it looks just like a plastic shower curtain I saw on sale recently.)

I was also struck by how unskillfully made some of the early impressionist paintings appeared to me. I found myself thinking that if I’d painted them I wouldn’t have been satisfied with them. That made me consider what a harsh judge I must be of my own work. Then I wondered whether all the paintings in the show (and in museums generally) are considered fine works of art or are included in collections simply because they are historical records of work by famous artists?

And now for an abrupt change of topic….

Have you ever seen a gopher close up?

As we left the museum I saw a gopher pop his head out of a hole in the grass. He continued popping up and down, busy pushing dirt out of his hole. I thought he was so cute until I saw the close up (below) on the screen.

Gopher Close Up (click to enlarge if you dare)

Yikes! We had gophers in my first San Francisco house. I kept planting things in the garden and the next morning they’d be gone, pulled under ground by a network of gophers. I finally gave up gardening at that house. Between the fog and the gophers it was hopeless.

11 replies on “Birth of Impressionism Show and Gopher Close Up”

Did you see the crazy movie with Mr Bean going to America and he’s mistaken for an authority on art. It’s all about Whistler’s Mother.
Keep up the busy life and painting.


That sounds hilarious. I used to love Mr. Bean when it was on tv and will immediately try to find that episode online or on netflix. Thanks! Jana


Glad to read the review of the show. I would like to get there in the middle of the week but it sounds kind of crowded.

That is a hell of a shot you got of the gopher:)


We went on a Tuesday and it was a zoo! I’m going again next Thursday with my sister but I expect it will be more of the same. I’m going to try to get earlier tickets. Jana


Good for you for braving the crowds to see this exhibit! Sometimes it hardly seems worth it to go to a crowded art museum without room to stand back and really take in some of the art. And I would bet you’re right about some of the work being included because of it’s historical rather than artistic merit.

It sounds like you’ve had a wonderful two weeks of vacation!!!


Your pondering about the quality of paintings in museums DOES point out that you are your own harshest critic! Of course.

And, yes, some / many paintings are in museums because of the painter and not because of the painting itself. Also, museums help preserve the research archives of the art world, so they collect LOTS of stuff and some of it only gets out onto the walls when there is a theme to a show. And if your are a small / poor / new museum and you can get only one ‘Monet,’ I imagine you’ll take it! 😉

If you’ve never read John McPhee’s book “A Room Full of Hovings” you might find it interesting and amusing. Or not. I loved it.

On to gophers: At first I thought you had a groundhog. Turns out (per Wikipedia) that they are from different families, with groundhogs being 24x larger than gophers and belonging to the same family as SQUIRRELS. Surprise to me!

Since I live in upstate (near Niagara Falls) NY, I have LOTS of experience with groundhogs. Many years ago, my hound was hunting a groundhog and the groundhog escaped by climbing a tree! The dog went up after the groundhog… but not quite as far. The dog’s attitude, whenever he cornered a groundhog, was, “I’ve got him cornered. Now, you guys are the engineers! Figure out how to capture him for me! Now! WOOF!”

Does anything dissuade gophers from settling in your garden?


If groundhogs look like this gopher up close but are huge they must be really scary! Fortunately I don’t have gophers at this house, just squirrels. A friend in Berkeley has deer that rampage her garden and lately their neighborhood deer herd have started getting really aggressive, attacking one woman and pounding on the door of another neighbor who’d been putting out water for them and forgot one day. I was at her house yesterday and passed a deer crossing the street when I was leaving (and she doesn’t live up in the hills–she’s a block from busy Solano Ave.). Jana


I think that artists can certainly be quite critical of themselves. Probably because one can always see something to improve in the work. I guess the trick is to finish it, then let it go rather than judging it harshly or heaven forbide, throwing it away. Who knows how it may appear at a future time. I was about to redo some earlier photos and erase old ones on my blog. My husband reminded me that leaving them shows my progress as an artist. Such is the case with all artists. Love the gopher picture!


I agree with your husband. I recently posted three plein air paintings done over three years at the same spot that definitely showed my progress with oils/acrylics and while it was embarrassing to show the first two, it was a delight to see how far I’d come. And it gave me hope for how far I might be able to go in the next three years! Jana


the “shower curtain” is a Japanese print which pays tribute to the influence of Japanese art and culture on many painters at the time.


Ohhh! Of course. That makes perfect sense. Thanks for taking the time to write and explain….and for not prefacing your comment with “You moron…although I do feel like one a bit. But truthfully, there’s nothing better than a good laugh and I definitely needed one that day, even if it was at the expense of sounding like a dummy. [?] Jana


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