Henri Matisse
La fille aux yeux verts (The Girl with Green Eyes), 1908

Between 1907 and 1911 Matisse executed a series of portraits in which he experimented with various figure/background relationships. Among them, this painting is distinctive for its complex interplay between figure and ground, which compete for dominance yet are formally linked. The pendulous curve of the sitter’s chin is repeated in the embroidery of her robe and in the contour of the sculpture behind her. The freedom of the paint handling and coloration provides a foil for the model’s static, frontal pose. Her face, a chalky pink, pointed oval, gazes out with clear eyes, revealing nothing of the sitter’s personality. She is but one element in a many-faceted composition.

It is the joyous, audacious color of this portrait, however, that makes the initial impact. Matisse took his Fauve palette and made it richer, denser. Complementary colors are abutted, closely hued areas are juxtaposed. The arcing black outlines, which in Matisse’s later work would take on a life of their own, intermittently delineate features and set off the brilliant pigments.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
La fille aux yeux verts (The Girl with Green Eyes)
Artist name
Henri Matisse
Date created
oil on canvas
26 in. × 20 in. (66.04 cm × 50.8 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Harriet Lane Levy
© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

What’s behind this green-eyed gaze?

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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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Other Works by Henri Matisse

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