La fille aux yeux verts (The Girl with Green Eyes) Henri Matisse, French, (Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, 1869 - 1954, Nice, France) 1908 oil on canvas
One painting that was not represented at the 1992 Henri Matisse retrospective exhibit was La fille aux yeux verts (The Girl with Green Eyes), which was bequeathed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern art in 1950 by Harriet Lane Levy. Levy, a UC Berkeley graduate, who traveled to Paris with her childhood friend and neighbor Alice B. Toklas. There they became part of a circle of friends that included Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Toklas’ future lover Gertrude Stein.
I just spent the morning trying to unearth the newspaper article that I read a long time ago about The Girl with the Green Eyes. Since I could not find any reference to it, I will have to do it from memory. Levy’s donation was of course an extremely generous donation, but it has an unusual string attached. The painting is not allowed to be exhibited outside of San Francisco. I don't believe Levy understood the ramifications of this restriction.
I don’t know how commonplace it was for museums to loan works of art to each other back in 1950, but today it is a museum’s life blood. A curator can round out an exhibit by borrowing a pieces of art from another museums and then in turn loan out artifacts from its own collection. There is even a Museum Loan Network that maintains a directory of 20,000 loanable artifacts owned by 400 institutions. I can only imagine how many works of art the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York loaned out, or promised to loan out, in order to gather together 400 pieces of Henri Matisse’s art. It was certainly a huge collaborative effort between many institutions and individuals.
One does not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I’m guessing that the curators at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art have intermittently been frustrated that they can not leverage this important work by loaning it out.
I don’t know if Levy put the same restriction on the other works of art in the bequest, like this Fauvism painting by André Derain:
Paysage du Midi (Landscape of the Midi) André Derain, French (Chatou, France, 1880 - 1954, Garches, France) 1906 Painting oil on canvas on boardI never go to the San Francisco MoMA without paying The Girl with the Green Eyes a visit. Both paintings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art on the second floor.