The building gets its name from the fact that it is a three-quarters scale imitation of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris. The design was based on a model of the Paris building that appeared in an international exhibition, so it is not an exact copy.
The museum contains a representative collection of mainly European art. Its most distinguished collection is of sculpture by Rodin: casts of all his most famous statues are on display, including one of "The Thinker" in the forecourt. However there are individual works by many of the most important artists, including Rembrandt, Gainsborough, David, and many of the impressionists and post-impressionists - Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Seurat, Cézanne and others. There are also representative works by key twentieth century figures such as Braque and Picasso.
The museum building occupies a fine elevated site in Lincoln Park in the north-west of the city, with views over the Golden Gate Bridge. The collection is managed by the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, which also manages the De Young museum, for which a new building is currently (2003) being erected in the Golden Gate Park.