When The Museum of Modern Art first opened in 1929, with only a handful of artworks in its collection, it was more of an idea than a full-fledged institution. The Museum’s aspiration to establish a more robust collection was fulfilled when, in 1931, it received a bequest of more than 150 works from Lillie P. Bliss, one of three intrepid women who founded the Museum. A staunch advocate for modern art, Bliss had sought out the work of mostly late-19th-century French artists whose radical approaches to color, space, and form were controversial at the time.
The bequest became the core of the MoMA collection. The generous terms of the gift allowed works from her bequest to be sold to fund new acquisitions. That exceptional foresight facilitated the purchase of many artworks now considered synonymous with MoMA, including Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.