Dec. 31 marks the 148th anniversary of the birth of art god Henri Matisse. On view in the Modernism Gallery is his painting Annelies, White Tulips and Anemones, a gentle, loving portrait of a woman sandwiched between two vases of blooms leafing through a book.

In 2008, former museum archivist Mary Ann Akao wrote about a note from the artist that is cached in our archive. We republish her article in honor of Matisse’s birthday.


Katherine McLane, acting director of the museum from 1928 to 1935, was a tireless promoter of the museum. In the archives are letters from her to famous people inviting them to Honolulu. In 1930, she found out that Henri Matisse traveled to Tahiti, and she sent him a letter there saying, “Should your itinerary include Honolulu, the Academy would indeed be very happy to be of any use to you. We hope that you will pay us the honor of visiting our small museum.”

And while still in Papéete, Matisse wrote back. His 10 June 1930 letter said, “I thank you for your kind invitation which I cannot accept, for I will not pass through Honolulu to return to France. I leave in several days via Panama. With deep regret, please accept, Madam, my sincere regards.” The handwritten note on lined paper is secreted in the Archives.

McLane wrote the artist again, expressing her own regret and added that she hoped the museum would add a Matisse to its collection in the “not too distant future.” Sixteen years later, the Friends of the Academy gave the museum Annelies, White Tulips and Anemones.