Gertrude Stein and Important Artists and Artworks
Woman with a Hat (year)
Henri Matisse has depicted his wife, Amélie, in a floral dress and large hat, seated in a chair looking out over her shoulder. Represented in vivid colors and loose, gestural, brushstrokes, the painting caused a scandal when it debuted in the 1905 Paris, Salon d'Automne. One critic was so outraged he called Matisse and other artists painting in this style "fauves" (or "wild beasts"), but in so doing, he or she inadvertently named the movement that would be known henceforward as Fauvism.
The author and critic James R. Mellow argued that for Stein the purchase "seemed perfectly natural and she could not understand why it [had] infuriated everybody". Matisse's biographer and first Director of Museum of Modern Art in New York, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., even referred to the purchase as "an act of considerable courage and extraordinary discernment" (though it is known that Leo had not been so easily persuaded by the painting's merit). The author Janet Hobhouse states that "the Stein family's friendship with the Matisses greatly altered the fortunes of the painter and his wife. They now not only had loyal patrons [...] but an intelligent and responsive audience for work which few others were then willing to support".
Stein developed a close relationship with the artist and described him as a man with, "an astonishing virility that always gave one an extraordinary pleasure when one had not seen him for some time. Less the first time of seeing him than later. And one did not lose the pleasure of this virility all the time he was with one". Unfortunately, Stein's description of the Matisses in her 1932 autobiography The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas ended their friendship with the artists taking offence to (amongst other things) Stein's comments about his wife's looks which she likened to that of a horse. In 1915 Stein would sell this painting to her brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sally, in order to secure funds so that she and her partner Alice Toklas could support themselves while they volunteered to support the war effort.
Oil on canvas - Collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Gertrude Stein (1905-06)
Arguably one of Pablo Picasso's most well-known portraits, Stein is depicted with hair pulled tightly into a bun and dressed in a brown corduroy suit which was the "uniform" that made her stand out from the crowd in the streets, galleries and cafes of Paris. The muted color palette in which the work is rendered was chosen by Picasso in order to direct the viewer's attention directly to Stein's face and her intense gaze. Author and critic James R. Mellow describes how for Picasso "the portrait became a stunning transitional work, lingering at the end of his Rose Period of harlequins and circus subjects. With its brown and somber coloring, its tawny hits of rose in the flesh colors and in the background, the painting represented the autumn of that style. But its sharp and angular characterization of the sitter looked ahead to the approach of Cubism".
Picasso asked Stein if he might paint her portrait not long after he had become a regular guest at 27, rue de Fleurus; the site of many dinners and long evenings of conversation about modern art. His request that Stein sit for him proved something of a turning point for the artists. According to the author Janet Hobhouse, Picasso had not worked with a model in eight years and "over the months that Gertrude came to pose for him at his studio - some ninety sittings in all - their friendship was [truly] formed". Picasso had in fact shown frustration at his inability to truly capture Stein's likeness. According to Mellow, in the spring of 1906, "one day, in a fit of irritability, Picasso had painted out the head. 'I can't see you any longer when I look'" he exclaimed. The artist did manage to "find her again", however, and he completed the painting in Stein's absence.
Oil on canvas - Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Gertrude Stein (1907)
To show his appreciation for the Steins' purchase of his work for their collection, Swiss painter Félix Vallotton painted this portrait of Gertrude by way of a gift. Author and critic James R. Mellow described his rendering of Stein, "as an august and sleek personage in the loose, brown corduroy robe with a lapis-lazuli mandarin chain [...] which she wore as a sort of official costume at her 'at homes' on Saturday evenings".
This was only the second time Stein had sat for a portrait (after Picasso a year earlier) and she observed the contrast between the two approaches. She said of Vallotton, "when he painted a portrait he made a crayon sketch and then began painting at the top of the canvas straight across". Stein likened the artist's strategy to "pulling down a curtain as slowly moving as one of his Swiss glaciers. Slowly he pulled the curtain down and by the time he was at the bottom of the canvas, there you were". Vallotton never came close to Picasso's fame, nor as close to Stein personally. Mellow argues in fact that Stein's indifferent "feelings about the picture are no doubt reflected in the fact that it never appears in photographs of the studio in early years". This does not mean that Vallotton's portrait was less deserving of its place in Stein's legacy, however. Indeed, according to the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, "in pulling Stein's head back from the picture plane and making her robe a monolithic platform for her massive head and hands, Vallotton rendered her a female Buddha [and by] the late 1920s, his interpretation of Stein as imperious, remote and ageless became the common one".
Oil on canvas - Collection of Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Group of Artists (1908)
A group portrait, Marie Laurencin's painting is a celebration of some of the early twentieth century's greatest talents who became regular visitors to Stein's apartment for her exclusive Saturday evening gatherings. Featured from left to right is a seated Pablo Picasso (his dog on his lap), the artist herself (Laurencin), her partner, the poet and art patron Guillaume Apollinaire, and on the far right, the artist, and Picasso's lover, Fernande Olivier.
Stein had attributed the Saturday evening meetings for the most part to Matisse since it was he who had formed the habit of bringing people to the apartment at all times to admire the paintings of Cézanne. As Stein recalled, "Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began". The personal value of the painting to Stein was therefore obvious, but the purchase was important for Laurencin too, given that it was the first painting the artist ever sold and thereby effectively launching her career as a professional artist.
Stein's desire to support artists within her community can be traced with this painting when, in 1925, she exchanged the work with dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler for a painting by Juan Gris. Stein did this, not because she has fallen out of love with Laurencin's painting - indeed the painting was, according to the author Janet Hobhouse, "a work of great sentimental value" to Stein - but rather she had felt the need to support the flagging fortunes of Gris who had struggled since the end of the war and through the slow demise of Cubism. Sadly, Stein and Laurencin would later fall out over the content of Stein's 1932 book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. According to Hobhouse, Laurencin felt, "it was wrong to depict the pasts of writers and artists since they always lived in the present [and] without heed to the possibilities of future reporting of those lives". Nevertheless, the author and critic James R. Mellow asserts that Laurencin, "remained grateful to Gertrude's gesture [of early support] even when they were no longer on friendly terms".
Oil on canvas - Collection of Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
An early work in the oeuvre of Francis Picabia, Caoutchouc provides a good example of his Cubist influences and predates the Dadaist and Surrealist works for which he is much better known. Lacking any depth or dimensionality, Picabia has rendered basic geometric shapes including circles and squares, in loose brushstrokes of various colors. An early supporter of Cubism, and an admirer of Picabia's originality, these abstract works were the pieces Stein responded to most favorably. According to author and critic James R. Mellow, "Picabia's manner changed considerably throughout the twenties [...] and by the thirties he was painting in a representational, somewhat surreal, style with fluidly drawn, transparent figures of humans, animals, and birds. What Gertrude seems to have appreciated in this pastiche of a style was the artist's attempt to solve 'the problem that a line should have the vibration of a musical sound".
While Stein was not a fan of Surrealism, she felt Picabia distinguished himself from others working in that style, stating, "the surréalistes [...] accept the line as having become vibrant and as therefore able to in itself to inspire them to higher flights. He who is going to be the creator of the vibrant line knows that it is not yet created and if it were it would not exist by itself, it would be dependent upon the emotion of the object which compels the vibration". For Stein, Picabia was an artist with the vision and sensitivity to realize any such development.
Watercolor, gouache and India ink on cardboard - Collection of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
The Architect's Table (1912)
An excellent example of Analytical Cubism, a revolutionary style developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Picasso depicts a table strewn with barely discernable objects including drawing and other architect tools. True to this style, the objects are rendered in a muted color palette of various shades of brown and are presented in simplified, flat, overlapping geometric forms that lack any sense of depth or dimensionality.
What distinguished Stein from many of Picasso's other patrons was that she was one of the first to support his Cubist experiments. When others were struggling to understand Cubism, she was already an advocate; perhaps because she recognized in Picasso the same trailblazing spirit that she tried to achieve in her own literary style. That she felt a kinship with Picasso is clear when she told him, "there are two geniuses in art today, you in painting and I in literature". She knew Picasso was creating something hugely significant that would alter the direction of modern art which she acknowledged when she stated, "[Picasso] understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it, but he is contemporary and as the twentieth century is a century which sees the earth as no one has ever seen it".
According to author and critic James R. Mellow, Stein had unintentionally inspired this painting when she and her partner Alice Toklas had visited Picasso's studio. The artist was nowhere to be found so, "as a joke [Stein] left her calling card". Some days later, the couple returned to the studio where they spotted this painting. Stein noticed that "At the bottom of the picture, Picasso had painted in a replica of Gertrude's calling card". She wanted the work so much that, short on funds, she had to arrange a payment installment plan with Picasso's dealer. It was also the first painting Stein bought on her own, without Leo's (who disliked Cubism) input or financial support.
Oil on canvas - Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Book and Glass (1914)
Book and Glass was one of the first Gris paintings acquired by Stein. Rendered in a Cubist style of simplified, flattened, geometric forms, Gris depicted a table on which rests a bottle, glass, package of tobacco, and an open book. Upon closer inspection, however, as the Metropolitan Museum details, one can see, "shadowy doubles of each form camouflaged within the blue-checkered design", while a man's upper body can be discerned: "the stemmed drinking glass at top center suddenly appears as a neck and shirt collar; the top diagonal edges of the table are shoulders; the long triangle of shaded brown paper at center is a necktie; and the tobacco packet at upper right is a folded pocket square".
Praising Gris, Stein once stated, "the only real cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and his exaltation". Interestingly, she did not take completely to Gris when she first met him, recalling that he was, "a tormented and not particularly sympathetic character [who] was very melancholy and effusive and as always clear sighted and intellectual". Stein would became very fond of Gris in later years, especially so as he stayed true to Cubism long after others (including Picasso) had left the movement behind. Stein also supported Gris when he needed it most and, according to author Janet Hobhouse, "most of the other Cubists [in the years after the First World War] had by then become too successful to need her patronage (and their paintings had become too expensive for her to buy), but Gris had suffered for a long time from both poverty and ill-health and very much depended on [Stein's] support to stay alive." Upon his death in 1927, she wrote a tribute to him for an issue of Transition magazine titled "The Life and Death of Juan Gris".
Conté crayon, charcoal, wax crayon, watercolor, gouache, oil, paper, honeycomb panel - Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York