San Diego Museum of Art acquires two masterpieces - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

San Diego Museum of Art acquires two masterpieces

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The San Diego Museum of Art has acquired masterpieces from two revered Spanish artists.

The museum has acquired "St. Francis in Prayer in a Grotto" by artist Francisco de Zurbaran. The painting dates back to the 1650s, and is now valued at $1.7 million.

"Having a painting of this caliber arriving to this community, that will remain beyond all of us, that is really a great and magnificent gift," San Diego Museum of Art Executive Director Roxana Velasquez said.

It's a gift made possible by the generosity of businessman and philanthropist Conrad Prebys and his partner Debbie Turner.

"It's sheer beauty," Prebys said.

A relative newcomer to the art world, Prebys says the image of St. Francis of Assisi speaks to his soul.

"The eyes… he's looking right down at me right now. It's a hypnotic effect it has on me. The longer I look at it, it's just different, it's magnificent," he said.

For more than 350 years, this painting called Spain its home, part of the family collection of the counts of Ibangrande. So what a rare treasure that all of us in San Diego can now enjoy this masterpiece in its new home.

"Francisco de Zurbaran is one of the greatest artists in the history of art," Velasquez said.

Velasquez says the quality of this oil painting represents perfection from the golden age of art.

"Those eyes just glitter and have a melancholy projection. So these paintings are almost talking, they're almost alive," she said.

And the significance of the subject to San Diegans, is historical.

"This monk is St. Francisco, St Francis of Assisi, who started all the missions here in California," Velasquez explained.

Prebys, who is Catholic, says the painting inspires him to pray and give thanks for his abundant success, which has allowed him to give back millions to countless charities in San Diego.

"I'm not hesitant to say I'm a very spiritual person, and that makes me want to pray, and I'm emotional with this sort of stuff," he said.

Prebys says he was so glad to be able to donate the funds so the museum can showcase this piece of art to all who visit San Diego, and to make sure it is accessible to anyone who wants to see it, the museum will be open to the public for free on two specific weekends -- the last weekend in January, and the last weekend in February.

The second piece of art from 1908, called "By the Seashore, Valencia" by artist Joaquin Sorolla, will be on view starting February 26. The funds for that piece came from the Legler Benbough Foundation.

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