Whole new game at the de Young

Huge audiences at the recent “Birth of Impressionism” exhibit at the de Young Museum found many old friends hanging on the walls in curator Lynn Federle Orr’s superb arrangement of the treasures on loan from France.

The paintings are new and different in the sequel, called “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay” opening Saturday at the de Young.

San Francisco is the only city showcasing both groups of art works, which are traveling while the museum in Paris is being renovated.

This time, there is a better chance for discovery. In addition to famous works such as Paul Gauguin’s “Tahitian Women” and Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Artist’s Bedroom at Arles,” many lesser-known works are among the 119 paintings.

To display them to their best advantage, Orr used the flexibility of the Herzog and de Meuron-built de Young to reconfigure the space completely.

She also was in charge of repainting of the exhibit space with Benjamin Moore colors including shadow (eggplant), old navy (dark blue) and fresco urbain (brown) It’s hard to recognize the former home to “Birth of Impressionism” or King Tut.

These big shows are partly responsible for the startling number of visitors — 7.7 million — the museum has hosted since it reopened five years ago. (Compare that with the median attendance of 34,000 in the country’s museums.)

Among the most familiar sections of the exhibit are the headliners, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Paul Cézanne, who represented the apex of impressionism proper (of the 1870s and 1880s) and led the way to what was labeled post-impressionism in 1910.

Van Gogh thrived only for a decade (1880-90), but his works, such as “La nuit étoilée” (“Starry Night Over the Rhone”) and “Le restaurant de la Sirene” — both in the exhibit — cast a long shadow forward to symbolism, fauvism and even German-originated expressionism, which lasted beyond World War I.

Gauguin was a unique, unclassifiable member of the group, his paintings of Martinique and Tahiti natives, and “Self-Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ” virtually leap off the walls at the de Young.

Among the numerous Cézannes, be sure to note “Apotheosis of Delacroix” and “Baigneurs” (“Bathers”), which are luminous, strange, striking, near-abstract works.

The show overwhelms with dozens of equally amazing works, including  Henri Rousseau’s “premeditated naive” paintings; don’t miss “War,” with crows picking on corpses. The 1894 work is a veritable throwback to 15th-century Hieronymus Bosch’s phantasmagoric nightmares.

Lesser-known, fascinating paintings are from the Pont-Aven school, which was started informally by Gauguin in Brittany in 1888.

Post-impressionist avant-garde artists at the forefront in France in the 1890s, known as Nabis, are also represented, including Pierre Bonnard’s  “Le corsage a carreaux” (“The Checked Blouse”) and “Le plaisir” (“The Pleasure”).

Also notable are century-old novelties such as Ker Xavier Roussel’s “La terrasse” (“The Terrace”) and Félix Vallotton’s ghostly-realistic “Misia a sa coiffeuse” (“Misia at Her Dressing Table”).

IF YOU GO

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay

Where: De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

When: Opens Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. daily except until 8:45 p.m. Fridays and closed Mondays; exhibit closes Jan. 18 

Tickets: $20 to $25

Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoungmuseum.org

Note: A special $5 admission on Oct. 16 also covers same-day admission to the Legion of Honor, where “Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism” opens.

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