What’s behind this green-eyed gaze?
SFX: Scratches as the Gramophone needle hits the disc, turn of the century Parisian music
NARRATOR: They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. But her eyes don’t seem to reveal very much.
We do not know who the sitter might have been for The Girl with Green Eyes. Matisse did like to work from models but her identity is not known to us.
That’s curator Janet Bishop. It might be hard to imagine now, but when Matisse first exhibited this painting in 1910, people were shocked.
One of the primary elements of the piece that was distressing to its viewers was that Matisse treats the young woman and the objects in the background in much the same way, giving them all sort of equal prominence within the composition.
If he was interested at all in those eyes, he was just as absorbed by the patterns on her clothes, the textures of her hat, the ceramics and the objects behind her. Matisse once said, “I seldom paint portraits, and if I do only in a decorative manner. I can see them in no other way.”
She’s not doing what young women in paintings normally did, which was to sit demurely, or hold a cup of tea. She’s staring straight out at the viewer.
Yes — back to that green-eyed gaze.
One of our researchers here dug through the archives of the San Francisco Examiner and found an article that was titled something like, “How Deadly Diseases Inspire Great Works of Art.”
SFX: Fade up on cabaret ballad; the sound of delicate absinthe glasses clinking
And the caption under this painting was, “Matisse paints faces crazed with absinthe drinking.”
We thought it was fascinating the way it was contextualized when it first arrived in San Francisco.
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