If you want to see a show about the virtues of enlightened philanthropy, you need go no farther than "The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism," a show of more than 60 works from New York's Museum of Modern Art at the de Young museum in San Francisco.
Paley was the founder and driving force behind CBS, whose innovative programming brought us such television icons as Edward R. Murrow and "I Love Lucy." Paley began collecting modern art in the 1930s when he bought a small self-portrait by Paul Cezanne from the artist's son. It is one of the gems in the de Young exhibition, along with an important landscape and a still life of a milk can and apples, also by Cezanne.
Including masterful pieces by Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Andre Derain, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, the show opens with a vibrant Gauguin painting of his Tahitian mistress in an exotic island setting. Nearby is another stunning Gauguin a scene of washerwomen at a river in Arles where the artist worked for a brief period with Vincent van Gogh.
As you move through the exhibit, you find many surprises, from Picasso's rose period "Nude With Joined Hands" to a small but exciting Edouard Vuillard painting of a shadowy interior titled "The Green Lamp."
In addition to several major Picassos, including the masterpiece of analytical cubism "The Architect's Table," there is an ethereal cubist still life by Georges Braque that lends credence to the beliefs of some that he was a more serious artist than Picasso.
Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec were masterful drafsmen, as shown by a gritty charcoal drawing of ballet dancers by Degas and a dashing painting of a saucy, newly rich woman by Toulouse-Lautrec.
Matisse is represented by two seminal figure paintings from his Nice period, "Woman With a Veil" and "Odalisque With a Tambourine." Also on view is a potboiler of a painting of an actor in costume as a musketeer that shows that genius is not always at work in even the greatest of artists.
Equally out of place in this mostly fine show is a late painting by Derain, again of actors in costume, from his reactionary phase in the 1930s. Fortunately there is a brilliant fauvist landscape from 1906, "Bridge Over the Riou," to make up for it.
For the most part, this is a fairly coherent show, not of a unifying historical period or theme, but a strongly personal collection of works that were hung in Paley's Fifth Avenue apartment as several photographs of works in situ reveal.
In addition to the unfortunate Matisse and Derain works, there are some pieces that just do not seem to belong in this assemblage, among them a pair of Francis Bacon triptychs, an Edward Hopper landscape and an intriguing painting of industrial sites in Pittsburgh by the self-taught artist John Kane. They are not unworthy works but they deviate from the main thrust of the show.
The exhibition demonstrates how a patron of the arts can give generously to an institution. In addition to leaving his collection to MoMA, Paley served as the museum's president, as chairman of the board, and chairman of the painting and sculpture committee. It is to be hoped that his example will inspire patrons in the Bay Area to participate in similar ways.
The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism
Where: M.H. de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 9:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Friday (No Friday hours after Nov. 23). Closed Monday, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Through Dec. 30.
Cost: $20 general, $17 seniors 65 and older, $16 students with current ID, $10 youths 6-17, free for children 5 and under and some members.
Information: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoungmuseum.org