I saw a Newshour segment on PBS about about a month or two ago (May, actually) on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of Gertrude Stein’s private art collection. I was fascinated because I didn’t know that much about Gertrude Stein other than she was a lesbian “stream-of-consciousness” writer and subject of a Picasso painting.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

She was born into a wealthy Jewish-German family in Pennsylvanvia in 1874 but raised in Oakland until her parents died in the 1890s and then she moved to her brother Michael’s house in Baltimore. Then she moved to 27, rue de Fleurus Paris in 1903 with her brothers and sister-in-law.  She met her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas, who also moved into the Stein residence.

Paris in the early 20th-century was the cultural center of the galaxy. Artists of all nationalities emigrated to the city to start their careers. Here on the ru de Fleurus did “avant-garde painters and writers” gather for validation at Stein salons.

This next excerpted dialog is directly from the PBS transcript and explains the basic premise of the SFMOMA exhibit: 

JANET BISHOP, [curator] San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The exhibition brings together over 150 pieces that were once owned by the Steins from five different continents, from public collections, from private collections really, from all over the world.

SPENCER MICHELS: Janet Bishop, one of the show’s curators, said this wasn’t just any art collection. Stein scoured art galleries and shows, buying paintings by unheralded artists like Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cezanne, Juan Gris, as well as Picasso and Matisse, the cutting-edge artists of the day whose work, not yet famous nor expensive, gave rise to fauvism, cubism, and surrealism.

JANET BISHOP: The Steins were really essential to the development of modern art in the early 20th century. Their homes became the crossroads for dialogue and anyone who was interested in seeing the most interesting new art being made in Paris at the time really had to go to the Stein residences.

This next part discusses Matisse’s two pieces shown on this post: 

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

SPENCER MICHELS: Henri Matisse was a family favorite. In 1906, Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo saw this Matisse at a Paris salon, unsold.

JANET BISHOP: Leo and Gertrude Stein stepped forward at the very end of the exhibition and offered Matisse a discounted price and he accepted it.

And as soon as that painting got to their home on the Rue de Fleurus, people needed to go see it. It had been the most notorious submission to that year’s salon.

SPENCER MICHELS: Notorious because even Matisse’s wife, who was the model, was embarrassed by the colors that didn’t correspond to nature.

JANET BISHOP: It was one thing to do that with landscape, but then to take that palette and apply it to a portrait of a woman, to a woman’s face, to paint a woman’s face green, was utterly shocking and unprecedented.

SPENCER MICHELS: The painting, “Woman With a Hat,” is today regarded as a masterpiece and graces the cover of the catalogue.

Henri MatisseBlue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), 1907, Baltimore Museum of Art

In 1907, the Steins bought a Matisse called “Blue Nude,” a painting, Bishop says, that had a profound influence on Picasso.


Just in case anyone wants to go (like my sister Erica), the SFMOMA exhibit ends on Sept 6th — the Contemporary Jewish Museum, has a companion show on the life of Gertrude Stein across the street.

PBS Newshour:  San Francisco Exhibit Reunites Gertrude Stein’s Remarkable Art Collection (Video and transcript — air date May 31, 2011)