SAN FRANCISCO, July 20 (Xinhua) -- "It's a completely different feeling when you see the real painting," said Song, a college teacher from Beijing, on Saturday before Peter Paul Rubens's painting at the Legion of Honor museum here.
"I saw the painting before in a book and was immediately attracted by the artist's delicate and powerful expression to depict the Bible story," said the visitor who only gave her last name. "When I see the real painting, I'm amazed by the large scale of it -- it's like a mural."
The ongoing Rubens-themed exhibition assembles about 30 paintings and 20 works on paper of the Flemish artist, tracing the early days of his career. During what is arguably the artist's most innovative period of production, from 1608 until about 1620, "Rubens rose to the highest ranks of European painting," according to the museum.
Assisted by museums in Belgium and Vienna, as well as private and other public collections, many of the paintings are exhibited in North America for the first time. Considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition, Rubens showed a unique gift for depicting seductive and shocking narratives.
It's a unique opportunity for Chinese art-loving tourists to see an exclusive Rubens show in San Francisco as the old master's paintings rarely travel out of Europe, said Kirk Nickel, assistant curator of European painting at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF).
"In recent years, most of Rubens shows have presented Rubens' paintings with other artists' work, and it's often rounded out as Rubens-Van Dyck show," said Nickel, also an organizer of the exhibition. "Past shows in the U.S. tended to be focused on his drawings or collaborative works with other artists."
Focusing specifically on Rubens's works, therefore, is a challenge, he said. "We really want this show to focus on paintings of high quality. It gathers a number of paintings that from the pivotal and transitional moment of his career. That's a feat in itself."
Rubens is popular in China. In 2013 and 2014, a themed exhibition of "Rubens, Van Dyck and the Flemish School of Painting" from the collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein were on display in China's national museum. It was the first major show of Rubens's paintings in the country.
In the Lincoln Park, where the Legion of Honor sits, Chinese tourists were seen roaming around on Saturday afternoon.
The FAMSF, comprising the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor, sees increasing interest of Chinese audience. Chinese online visitors have almost doubled over the past year and are now the art institution's second largest visitor group.
"It's not easy to see the original classic paintings in China," said Zhang, a visitor from Shanghai who preferred to be identified by his last name only. He, with his wife, decided to stay one more day in San Francisco for the Rubens exhibition before leaving for Los Angeles.
The couple have traveled several times to the United States and Europe, with museums as the focus. "When we arrive in a new place, we like to see the local museums to learn about the art and culture. That's the reason why we travel overseas," Zhang said.
"Art is something everyone can appreciate no matter where you come from and what language you speak," he added.