"920 O'Farrell Street"
Levy's memoirs of her Jewish childhood in San Francisco in the late 1800s
Not published until 1937.
During the 1890s, Harriet became an important drama critic for popular San Francisco publications, like the San Francisco Call. She also wrote for The Wave with notable writers like Jack London, another University California ex-student.
Going to Paris was the next step for any cultured American. She had already visited Paris several times before, the first being with her friends Michael and Sarah Stein, Gertrude Stein’s brother and sister in law. But this time she sailed to Paris with Alice B Toklas, a friend and neighbour from childhood, for a few years. They arrived in Paris in 1907 and lived together until Toklas met Gertrude Stein.
Harriet Levy (left) and Alice B Toklas
Photo credit: The Bancroft Library
Harriet Levy was now alone. So she busied herself in this strange new and vibrant world, initiating herself into the Parisian lifestyle, including participating in salons run by the Stein family. She was aware of the Picasso Vs Matisse rivalry, she loved buying art and she particularly liked participating in Montmartre’s wild nights. Keen readers will love Paris Portraits: Stories of Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein and Their Circle, drafted by Harriet Lane Levy in Paris but rewritten and published years later in the USA.
Levy returned to California in 1910, at age 43, and lived the rest of her life as a woman of independent means. Despite her early success as a journalist, Levy did not leave a great deal of written work to be remembered by - just the books I have already mentioned, some unpublished manuscripts now in the Bancroft Library, and a small book of poems.
But she found her niche in collecting and art philanthropy. We know which artists Harriet patronised in Paris and which paintings she bought in the USA, because she became a very important benefactor at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. To give just a few examples, see André Derain’s Paysage du midi, 1906; Henri Matisse’s Corsican Landscape, 1899 and La Table au café, c1899; and Pablo Picasso’s Scène de rue, 1900. She also bequeathed the Museum the terracotta by Peter David Edstrom called Portrait of Miss Levy, c1908.
Matisse, Girl with Green Eyes