Actress Leaves $1.6 Million to Art Museum


A bequest of $1.6 million from the late silent-film actress Carol Dempster Larsen will be used to expand the San Diego Museum of Art’s collection of prints and drawings, museum director Steven L. Brezzo announced Friday.

The money will also create the Edwin S. and Carol Dempster Larsen Memorial Gallery, a permanent space devoted to special exhibitions of prints and drawings, as well as shows of the museum’s holdings in those media, which number about 3,000.

Added to funds raised from last spring’s sale of the museum’s collection of photographs, which netted about $300,000, the museum now has an endowment of about $1.9 million designated exclusively for works on paper, Brezzo said. This is the first time the museum has specified an endowment or a gallery for that part of the collection.

Larsen, who starred in 17 films from 1916-26, 16 of them directed by D.W. Griffith, left her career behind when she married banker Edwin S. Larsen. Their previous gifts to the museum include Thomas Eakins’ painting “Elizabeth Crowell and her Dog” and Francisco Zuniga’s sculpture “Mother and Daughter Seated,” both on view at the museum.


The two settled in La Jolla in 1966, and Edwin Larsen, who died in 1978, once served as treasurer of the San Diego Museum of Art. Mrs. Larsen died earlier this year.

Malcolm Warner, the museum’s prints and drawings curator, said the money will be spent to “build on strengths” in the museum’s collection, including American prints from the 1920s and ‘30s, as well as additional European color prints from the 1890s that will complement the extensive collection of prints by Toulouse-Lautrec donated to the museum in 1988 by the Baldwin M. Baldwin Foundation. Warner also wants to focus on California artists and hopes to buy a major Italian Renaissance print or drawing.

The announcement came as the museum opened “The Art of the Print,” which starts in the Larsen gallery. The show is a survey of 150 works covering the history of printmaking. Two-thirds of the selections come from the museum’s holdings, and the rest are borrowed from local collections.

The next major print exhibition to be shown in the Larsen space will survey New York artist Jasper Johns’ “The Seasons,” including all of the artist’s working proofs from the series. That show is scheduled to open at the end of June.