Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Girl with Green Eyes

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 board
I 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.


Ruth said...

I hadn't seen "The Girl with Green Eyes" before. What strikes me, besides the vibrancy, is that she appears to be wearing a sweatshirt with a smiley face! Which wouldn't be possible in the early 1900s. :|

Lofty observation, eh?

julochka said...

i love matisse and didn't know about this painting. what a story! i guess i'll just have to come to SF! :-)

christina said...

this is the first time i have seen this. isn't it something how we can't leave the museums without saying hello to our favorites. ;)

robin laws said...

just think how this girl with the green eyes must feel being cooped up in the same museum for over 50 years, never mind the museum itself :|

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
Haha, that's a funny observation! Do you think she bought it at Walmart?

Dear Julie,
I guess you will have to :-)) You responded to my tease perfectly!

Dear Christina,
That is the honest to gosh truth! Great art can feed you forever.

Dear Robin,
Actually she once got a very exciting move halfway across town when they built the new MoMA building downtown. Woohoo!

paris parfait said...

I am a fan of this painting, but didn't know it was restricted to San Francisco. Of course if you have to be stuck somewhere, San Fran's not bad. But traveling around from museum to museum sounds like a lot more fun.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Tara,
That would be a nice existence wouldn't it - traveling from museum to museum with all admiring eyes upon you.

California Girl said...

Based on what you write about lending paintings, etc., you will be interested in the documentary, "The Art of the Steal" about the Barnes Museum and its priceless collection of Post Impressionist art among other treasures. Dr. Barnes did not want his collection moved either. The Philadelphia Museum, according to the documentary, contrived to get it for decades and now they will. The POV of the story is decidedly against the museum, the politicians and the owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer who had quite the vendetta against Barnes. Hard to be on any of the sides. I guess I believe in honoring wills.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear California Girl,

Sorry I didn't respond to your comment until now. I'm trying to catch up after my summer holiday.

Thank you so much for telling me about this documentary. I just placed it at the top of my Netflix queue. I look forward to learning about this collection. Out the gate, I believe in honoring the intent of the will.

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