The Year Gertrude Stein
I have been observing Gertrude Stein’s face for two days on a photograph taken by Horst P. Horst in Paris 1946. She is sitting on her couch comfortably, looking straight at the lenses while her white fluffy pooch is staring right into her eyes. She looks like a mature and confident woman, present, full, and devoid of angst, her intense inner life inscribed in the deep wrinkles of her face.
She told Matisse in a famous quote, “Matisse, there is nothing inside of you that fights with itself anymore.”* She probably meant that his genius was hanging on a space of internal fire, the angst of the tormented artist, and when it had gone away, so was his genius. She was excellent at seeing and recognizing genius. That’s what made her famous.
This year the art world is celebrating an extraordinary woman who promoted talent and who was more influential on the 20s art world than was ever recognized. Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris revisited Paris of the 20s and there she was, played by Kathy Bates, in her literary salon conversing with Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Hemingway. All heads were turned in her direction, to the rich American expatriate in Paris, the visionary, a writer in her own right, who mentored starving artists and who knew where the next talent was coming from. In the novel The Paris wife, young Hemingway is introduced to her, and this marks the beginning of his ascension. Later, their relationship sours, but he doesn’t need her anymore. He is already famous.
This summer the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art showcased her art collection to great success. The early Matisses are beautiful, as are the Manguins and the Picassos. She started collecting with her brother Leo as soon as she arrived in Paris in 1902. Leo, being an art critic, knew the art scene of the city and was interested in emerging artists. They had the funds to invest in art and supported what they rightfully envisioned would be the new geniuses of tomorrow. Their 22 rue de Fleurus apartment became the most exciting private salon in the city. Paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Manguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Derain, Bonnard, and Picasso were hanging next to each other and covering the walls entirely.
In 1945, she wrote the preface to the exhibition by Francisco Riba-Rovira who she newly discovered and promoted after her years spent in the countryside. We learn from it how personal her connection to art and the artists was. She was moved and awakened by those who surprised her, who digging deep inside themselves, were working from a new paradigm. When avant-garde was already discovered, she was looking for next big thing. This is who she was – a woman who lived through genius.
“ …I needed a young painter, a painter who would awaken me. (…)
One day, on the corner of a street, (…) , I saw a man painting. I looked at him; at him and at his painting, as I always look at everybody who creates something I have an indefatigable curiosity to look and I was moved. (…)
And now here we are, I find a young painter who does not follow the tendency to play with what Cézanne could not do, but who attacks any right the things which we tried to make, to create the objects which have to exist, for, and in themselves, and not in relation. (…)
I am fascinated and that is why he is the young painter who I needed.”*
* (quotes Wikipedia)