For Gertrude Stein, Collecting Art Was A Family Affair

  • Siblings Leo, Gertrude and Michael Stein grew up in the Bay Area and moved to Paris in the early 1900s. Leo (left) and Gertrude (center) shared a tiny apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, which they filled with avant-garde art. Just a few blocks away, Michael (right) and his wife, Sarah, did the same.
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    Siblings Leo, Gertrude and Michael Stein grew up in the Bay Area and moved to Paris in the early 1900s. Leo (left) and Gertrude (center) shared a tiny apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, which they filled with avant-garde art. Just a few blocks away, Michael (right) and his wife, Sarah, did the same.
    Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • The family collected works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and others who, as the 20th century progressed, would be recognized as masters. Above, a corner of Gertrude and Leo Stein's apartment, circa 1908-09;
    Hide caption
    The family collected works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and others who, as the 20th century progressed, would be recognized as masters. Above, a corner of Gertrude and Leo Stein's apartment, circa 1908-09;
    Teresa Ehrman, Baltimore Museum of Art
  • At the top of the previous slide you can see Pablo Picasso's 1905-06 portrait of Gertrude Stein. When Stein told Picasso, "It doesn't look like me," he replied, "Don't worry. It will."
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    At the top of the previous slide you can see Pablo Picasso's 1905-06 portrait of Gertrude Stein. When Stein told Picasso, "It doesn't look like me," he replied, "Don't worry. It will."
    Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society
  • The Steins didn't have a lot of money, but they spent what they had on art. Gertrude and Leo Stein purchased Paul Cezanne's 1898-1900 Bathers for 150 francs in 1904.
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    The Steins didn't have a lot of money, but they spent what they had on art. Gertrude and Leo Stein purchased Paul Cezanne's 1898-1900 Bathers for 150 francs in 1904.
    Mitro Hood, Baltimore Museum of Art
  • The Steins supported modern artists who were considered scandalous at the turn of the century. In 1911, the San Francisco Examiner stated, "Matisse paints faces crazed by absinthe drinking," in reference to his 1908 work, The Girl with Green Eyes.
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    The Steins supported modern artists who were considered scandalous at the turn of the century. In 1911, the San Francisco Examiner stated, "Matisse paints faces crazed by absinthe drinking," in reference to his 1908 work, The Girl with Green Eyes.
    Don Myer, SFMOMA, Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society
  • The Stein family poses for a photograph in the courtyard at 27 Rue de Fleurus, circa 1905. From right: Michael and Sarah Stein, Theresa Ehrman, a family friend of Michael and Sarah's who came with them to Paris as a teenager; sister and brother Gertrude and Leo Stein. Michael and Sarah's son Allan stands in front.
    Hide caption
    The Stein family poses for a photograph in the courtyard at 27 Rue de Fleurus, circa 1905. From right: Michael and Sarah Stein, Theresa Ehrman, a family friend of Michael and Sarah's who came with them to Paris as a teenager; sister and brother Gertrude and Leo Stein. Michael and Sarah's son Allan stands in front.
    The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, University of California, Berkeley
  • Artists Henri Matisse (center) and Hans Purrmann (far right) dine with Michael and Sarah Stein (left) and their son Allan, circa 1907, at Michael and Sarah's home at 58 Rue Madame.
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    Artists Henri Matisse (center) and Hans Purrmann (far right) dine with Michael and Sarah Stein (left) and their son Allan, circa 1907, at Michael and Sarah's home at 58 Rue Madame.
    Estate of Daniel M. Stein
  • Michael and Sarah Stein collected more than 40 of Matisse's works, including his 1907 Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra.
    Hide caption
    Michael and Sarah Stein collected more than 40 of Matisse's works, including his 1907 Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra.
    Mitro Hood, Baltimore Museum of Art, Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society
  • Henri Matisse's 1916 portraits of Michael and Sarah Stein. Matisse developed a deep friendship with Sarah; she was one of the few people to whom Matisse would show unfinished works.
    Hide caption
    Henri Matisse's 1916 portraits of Michael and Sarah Stein. Matisse developed a deep friendship with Sarah; she was one of the few people to whom Matisse would show unfinished works.
    Ben Blackwell, SFMOMA, Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society
  • The Steins hosted salons in their apartments and introduced friends and friends of friends to avant-garde art. The small apartment was also a place where the artists could meet, and be influenced by one another. After a decade of collecting art with his sister, Leo Stein moved from Paris to Italy in 1914.
    Hide caption
    The Steins hosted salons in their apartments and introduced friends and friends of friends to avant-garde art. The small apartment was also a place where the artists could meet, and be influenced by one another. After a decade of collecting art with his sister, Leo Stein moved from Paris to Italy in 1914.
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Gertrude Stein remained at 27 Rue de Fleurus, where she lived with her partner, Alice Toklas (left). Toklas moved to Paris from San Francisco in 1907. They continued the tradition of the Saturday salons and are shown in a 1922 photograph by Man Ray.
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    Gertrude Stein remained at 27 Rue de Fleurus, where she lived with her partner, Alice Toklas (left). Toklas moved to Paris from San Francisco in 1907. They continued the tradition of the Saturday salons and are shown in a 1922 photograph by Man Ray.
    Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society/ADAGP, Paris
  • Pablo Picasso's 1912 The Architect's Table can be seen in the upper right corner of the previous slide. Gertrude Stein went to visit Picasso in his studio while he was working on the painting. Finding him not there, she left her calling card, which Picasso painted into the lower right corner of the work.
    Hide caption
    Pablo Picasso's 1912 The Architect's Table can be seen in the upper right corner of the previous slide. Gertrude Stein went to visit Picasso in his studio while he was working on the painting. Finding him not there, she left her calling card, which Picasso painted into the lower right corner of the work.
    The Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society
  • As two young, ambitious foreigners in Paris, Picasso and Stein quickly developed a deep and special bond, says Gary Tinterow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Above, Picasso's 1905-06 Boy Leading a Horse.
    Hide caption
    As two young, ambitious foreigners in Paris, Picasso and Stein quickly developed a deep and special bond, says Gary Tinterow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Above, Picasso's 1905-06 Boy Leading a Horse.
    Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society
  • Picasso met Matisse through the Steins, and was influenced by the African art he saw in Matisse's studio, Tinterow says. Above, Picasso's 1907 Head of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery.)
    Hide caption
    Picasso met Matisse through the Steins, and was influenced by the African art he saw in Matisse's studio, Tinterow says. Above, Picasso's 1907 Head of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery.)
    Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society
  • Stein said the artwork in her apartment influenced and inspired her writing — especially her cubist poetry. This 1922 photograph taken by Man Ray shows Stein seated at a desk and Toklas standing in the doorway of the small apartment.
    Hide caption
    Stein said the artwork in her apartment influenced and inspired her writing — especially her cubist poetry. This 1922 photograph taken by Man Ray shows Stein seated at a desk and Toklas standing in the doorway of the small apartment.
    Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
  • Gertrude Stein, writer, collector, avant-garde art supporter and occasional muse: This 1922 photograph taken by Man Ray shows Stein posing for sculptor Jo Davidson.
    Hide caption
    Gertrude Stein, writer, collector, avant-garde art supporter and occasional muse: This 1922 photograph taken by Man Ray shows Stein posing for sculptor Jo Davidson.
    Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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A reunion of art is taking place in Paris right now. Works that haven't been there together in almost a century are reunited once again. The art was collected by writer Gertrude Stein and her brothers starting in the early 1900s. The Steins bought paintings right out of the studios of young avant-garde artists — Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others who would become masters as the 20th century progressed.

Henri Matisse works on a portrait of Michael Stein in 1916. i i

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Henri Matisse works on a portrait of Michael Stein in 1916.

Estate of Daniel M. Stein
Henri Matisse works on a portrait of Michael Stein in 1916.

Henri Matisse works on a portrait of Michael Stein in 1916.

Estate of Daniel M. Stein

The Steins' tiny apartment — situated on a narrow, tree-lined street — was jammed full of paintings. Gertrude's brother, Leo, got there first, in 1902, and Gertrude moved in the next year.

"The Rue de Fleurus apartment was smaller than most people's dining rooms," says Rebecca Rabinow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the show will open in February. "These pictures were just stacked from floor to ceiling. There was no electric light at the beginning, so people would sometimes light matches so they could see the pictures in the dark corners."

Janet Bishop, who launched the Stein show last spring at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, says that by 1907, visitors to the apartment were seeing paintings that would make history: Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse, Lady with a Fan, and Portrait of Gertrude Stein; Paul Cezanne's portrait of his wife and Matisse's Woman with a Hat.

It took a little while for Leo Stein to warm up to Henri Matisse's wildly colored 1905 painting Woman with a Hat. But he kept going back to see it at the Grand Palais, and finally bought it for 500 francs. i i

hide captionIt took a little while for Leo Stein to warm up to Henri Matisse's wildly colored 1905 painting Woman with a Hat. But he kept going back to see it at the Grand Palais, and finally bought it for 500 francs.

Ben Blackwell/SFMOMA
It took a little while for Leo Stein to warm up to Henri Matisse's wildly colored 1905 painting Woman with a Hat. But he kept going back to see it at the Grand Palais, and finally bought it for 500 francs.

It took a little while for Leo Stein to warm up to Henri Matisse's wildly colored 1905 painting Woman with a Hat. But he kept going back to see it at the Grand Palais, and finally bought it for 500 francs.

Ben Blackwell/SFMOMA

On Saturday nights, the Steins held an open house of sorts, during which visitors could come and meet the painters. It was the only place in Paris — let alone the world — where you could see such new and radical art. Artists, collectors, dealers, groupies came to view work that was revolutionary in the early 1900s.

Woman with a Hat was the first Matisse that Leo Stein bought (though it wasn't love at first sight; he said it was "the ugliest daubings of paint" he had ever seen.) People laughed at the painting, says Cecile Debray, who curated the Stein exhibit at Paris' Grand Palais; "The colors are very bright," she says. The woman's face is green, yellow and pink; her neck and ear are bright orange. Perched on her head is an enormous and elaborate multicolored hat.

But Leo Stein kept going back to look at that Matisse, which was on display in a 1905 exhibit of new works at the Grand Palais. Eventually the picture "got" to him. He paid 500 francs for it — a pittance at the time. (The Steins weren't rich, and what money they had they spent on art.) Today, the work is priceless and back on view at the Grand Palais.

"This is the very space where they first saw Matisse's woman with the hat," Rabinow says. "Every year, thousands of works [of] contemporary art would be exhibited in this very building, so to see them back here again really is exciting."

This 1878 Cezanne portrait was the first in Gertrude and Leo Stein's collection. Cezanne has painted his wife's right eye completely black. i i

hide captionThis 1878 Cezanne portrait was the first in Gertrude and Leo Stein's collection. Cezanne has painted his wife's right eye completely black.

J.P. Kuhn/ISEA Zurich
This 1878 Cezanne portrait was the first in Gertrude and Leo Stein's collection. Cezanne has painted his wife's right eye completely black.

This 1878 Cezanne portrait was the first in Gertrude and Leo Stein's collection. Cezanne has painted his wife's right eye completely black.

J.P. Kuhn/ISEA Zurich
At the Steins' apartment, Picasso saw the portrait in which Cezanne had painted his wife's eye black. Picasso tried the technique for himself in this 1906 self-portrait. i i

hide captionAt the Steins' apartment, Picasso saw the portrait in which Cezanne had painted his wife's eye black. Picasso tried the technique for himself in this 1906 self-portrait.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
At the Steins' apartment, Picasso saw the portrait in which Cezanne had painted his wife's eye black. Picasso tried the technique for himself in this 1906 self-portrait.

At the Steins' apartment, Picasso saw the portrait in which Cezanne had painted his wife's eye black. Picasso tried the technique for himself in this 1906 self-portrait.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Works by Cezanne and Picasso are also part of this reunion of art amassed by the entire Stein family — older brother Michael and his wife, Sarah, became avid collectors, too. The first painting Leo and Gertrude bought was a portrait Cezanne made of his wife in 1878.

The portrait launched their collection — and illustrates the impact the Steins had on art in Paris. "If you look at this portrait, you see that the left eye of the woman is nearly black," Debray points out. No, Cezanne didn't smack her — it was an artistic decision. Picasso saw that painting at the Steins' apartment and, in a self-portrait he made shortly afterward, Picasso "painted himself with a black eye, like in the Cezanne portrait," Debray says. A kind of homage to the elder master.

Just as the painters who met in Gertrude Stein's apartment were inspired and influenced by one another's pictures, Stein herself was influenced by the art on her walls. You can see the effects in her writing. "She began to deconstruct the written word in the way she felt that Picasso was beginning to deconstruct the visual motif," Rabinow says. Cubism was in the air at 27 Rue de Fleurus.

The Steins' passionate enthusiasm for art spread quickly as they encouraged their friends to join in the shopping. Soon, the Steins were getting priced out of the market. "By 1908, the dealers and international collectors were buying works, especially by Matisse," Rabinow says. "So the Steins could no longer afford the works that they wanted."

Still, Gertrude kept buying what she could. In later years, she started trading some pictures for others that she wanted. She also sold some to finance the publication of her writing — including The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which made her famous.

But the lesser-known Steins: Gertrude's brothers — Leo and Michael — and her sister-in-law Sarah, were as crucial as Gertrude was in gathering works of art that now fill the world's museums.

"It was more than just a collection," says Rabinow. "It was really the seed that began the spread of what we consider modern art throughout western Europe and America."

The artworks were gathered from more than 100 collections on five different continents. These visual definitions of the meaning of modern art will be on display at the Grand Palais until mid-January.

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