When someone commented that Gertrude Stein did not look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Thanks to the CJM, I am able to guarantee you will receive buckets of admiration for Stein and her contemporaries.
In her time (1874-1946) Stein was famous as a modern writer, style-maker, art collector, and networker extraordinaire.
What’s well known about Gertrude Stein is her quotable phrases like “There is no there there”, bringing together creatives such as Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway, and hosting the LGBT elite of her time.
Hats off to the Contemporary Jewish Museum whose shows never disappoint. They can take any artist and present a visual story that always fascinates with insider profiles and a revelation or two. Actually five here.
Story One, Picturing Gertrude:
Your first introduction to Stein is a well researched story in text and art of her childhood to maturity. She grew up in Oakland, CA. We watch her appearance change over the decades from the popular fashion of high necks, full sleeves, and wasp waists into the imposing masculine figure of her maturity. We learn of her middle class roots and her travels to Paris with her brothers and sister-in-law to begin their extensive art collecting life style. The title wall presents vintage footage of Stein in her Bilignin, France home. There is video projection of Stein with music by Virgil Thomson, a friend and collaborator.
Story Two, Domestic Stein:
Enter Alice B. Toklas, a tourist from San Francisco who met Gertrude in Paris and never left. I’d love to know the story of the woman who was traveling with Alice who saw the writing on the wall and went back home. Gertrude and Alice set up housekeeping, with Alice playing the traditional wife role, providing Stein with an eccentric yet traditional domestic life. Toklas was an efficient personal assistant and administrator of Gertrude Steins public persona. Steins “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, created an equally memorable character of Toklas.
The woman from Oakland, California reinvented herself into The Great Gertrude Stein, Parisian Salonnière of wide repute.
Story Three, The Art of Friendship:
If you’ve seen Kathy Bates portraying Stein in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, you will be blown away by the actual recording of Gertrude’s voice. Trust me, it’s not what you would expect. I was left with the impression that Stein is more approachable in biography than in her prose.
As to the mostly gay set of international men of the arts, Stein became a sort of mother figure.
Most people don’t realize that Stein also wrote opera and produced ballet.
Gertrude introduced the much younger Picasso to Matisse. When Matisse opened a painting school Alice took a class from him. Picasso created the portrait of Stein that became the only painting she donated to a museum. Especially in later years her primary focus was always insuring her legacy.
Story 4, Celebrity Stein:
In 1934, at the height of their fame, Stein and Toklas embarked on a seven month literary tour of the United States. Stein played to sold out auditoriums, and as one commentator said they cruised through their American tour like a battleship and a destroyer. They were truly on par with today’s sports heroes and pop stars. Stein’s opera ” Four Saints in Three Acts” was a hit on Broadway.
Story 5, Legacies:
It’s surmised that Stein retained her fame long after death due to her diversity of interests. In her time she was a renowned writer and speaker, while today she is probably most admired for her proud gay lifestyle and incredible contributions to the art world.
Seeing Gertrude Stein:
Contermorary Jewish Museum
May 12, 2011 – September 6, 2011
National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.
Oct 14, 2011 – Jan 22, 2012
The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Guard
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
May 21, 2011 – Sept 6, 2011