Crowds for "Birth of Impressionism" (which opened May 22) are treating it like the blockbuster it is. The most popular paintings are drawing hordes of art-struck spectators, who are risking expulsion by taking photographs. Museum security staff, one guard told me, have caught many offending visitors and asked them to delete images of their favorite masterpieces. The frenzy over Impressionism will never abate. In these paintings are the ideas of liberté, égalité, fraternité, and féminisme that struggled to anchor French society more than a century ago.

La Loge (The Theatre Box) (1874).
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
La Loge (The Theatre Box) (1874).

Details

"Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay"
Through Sept. 6 at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden (in Golden Gate Park), S.F. $17-$21; 750-3600 or http://deyoung.famsf.org.

"Impressionist Paris: City of Light"
Through Sept. 26 at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (in Lincoln Park), S.F. $7.75-$11.75; 750-3600 or http://legionofhonor.famsf.org.

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The exhibit succeeds by showing us Impressionism's full timeline and by reminding us that the artists were divided, even among themselves. That, I'm sure, was the curators' intent. Without the timeline and history lesson, "Impressionism" becomes a simplistic marketing slogan. Without the context, The Swing and Whistler's Mother become merely some other pretty pictures to admire and move away from.

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