Sunday, June 3, 2012


Pablo Picasso, Pomme, 1918
(Gertrude's Apple is a similar watercolor)
The incredible exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, THE STEINS COLLECT: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, is closing today and I am going back to see it before it does. I am not going back to see the whole exhibit either. I already spent four delicious hours on a beautiful spring day, devouring each and every one of the art works.  No, this time I am going back to see the Apple Picasso sent to Gertrude and Alice as a Christmas present in 1914 when she was upset over loosing Three Apples by Cezanne to her brother Leo when they separated their collection, and the drawing of Cocks, 1905, which Picasso gave to a friend of Gertrude Stein's in exchange for a Chinese gown for his girlfriend, Fernande.

Pablo Picasso, Cocks, 1905

Also the only pair of portraits Matisse is known to have painted, Sarah Stein, 1916 and Michael Stein, 1919, are worthy of a second trip.  Matisse painted these paintings to make amends for urging Sarah and Michael to lend their collection for an exhibit in Berlin that with the onset of World War I they couldn't get back. 

Henri Matisse, Sarah Stein, 1916
Henri Matisse, Michael Stein, 1919


And I want to go back to see the paintings that Picasso made as a response to Matisse's Blue Nude,the series of studies for Nude with Drapery, all of which seem like the preliminary stages of the Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.  It is fascinating to see Picasso's though process, as he worked out the figures for this groundbreaking painting as well as to know that it was Matisse, his arch rival, who introduced Picasso to African masks which these paintings recall.

Heas of a Sleeping Woman (Study for Nude with Drapery), 1907
Study for Nude With Drapery, 1907
(Private Collection)

And of course, I want to see Matisse's Blue Nude again that is referred as having pushed the figure of a reclining nude to a new height. Blue Nude:  Memory of Biskra was displayed in Spring1907 Salon des Independants, a year when "a momentous event int he history of modern art" took place, Manet's Olympia was accepted into the Louvre.

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude:  Memory of Biskra, 1907
(Baltimore Museum of Art)

THE STEINS COLLECT is a major exhibition that had all the little anecdotes and humanizing details that I am interested in the history of art.  While going through the exhibit the viewer not only gets to encounter some of the most important works of Modernist art but also the people that lived, made and collected art - in short Met once again manages to take us back to a time and a place for a personal experience...

This video takes a brief look at the Steins who were an upper-middle-class Jewish family from the United States that played a pivotal role in the support and advancement of avant-garde art at the beginning of 20th century. 

The Met exhibit is like a veritable feast of  masterpieces from the beginning of the modernist movement in art, with nine galleries beginning with paintings from contemporary artists that Leo and Gertrude would have encountered in 1903 at the Musee du Luxembourg upon their arrival all the way up to the 1930's.  As with all Met exhibits it is set up to take the viewer not only into the world or art but also to transport one to that particular time and place where the art was  being formed.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a wonderful outline on their website that are the actual gallery labels.  The beginnings of the collection is explained as:
On October 15, 1904, the second Salon d'Automne (an exhibition of contemporary art held each fall) opened with retrospectives devoted to five artists who were considered among the most relevant for the younger generation of painters:  Cezanne, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Odilon Redon, Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The impact on Leo was dramatic.  Two weeks later he and Gertrude emptied their bank accounts and spent all their space money on modern art.1
One of the paintings that was on display at the October 1904 Salon d'Automne was this Renoir. 
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Reclining Nude, 1883 
(Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

GALLERY TWO includes Leo and Gertrude's first purchases as they began to form their collection.
That [1905] fall Leo and Gertrude purchased a Bonnard nude and Matisse's Woman with a Hat. Leo explained to a friend back in the States, 'All our recent accessions are unfortunately by people you never heard of so there's no use trying to describe them, except that one of those out of the salon [the Matisse] made everybody laugh except a few who got mad about it and two other pictures are by a young Spaniard named Picasso whom I consider a genius of very great magnitude."2
Pierre Bonnard, Siesta, 1900
(National Gallery of Australia)
The model was Marthe Boursin, whom Bonnard had met in 1893; they lived as husband and wife but did not marry until 1925. Marthe is shown in a pose made famous by a celebrated classical sculpture, Hermaphrodite, which Bonnard may have seen in the Louvre during his studies there at l’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
We are in the room and looking down at the woman. With her head and shoulders in shadow, Marthe seems relaxed and perhaps asleep — she also appears to be slipping off the bed. The strong diagonal of the table on the right continues the line of Marthe’s upper left leg. The table appears tipped up, covered with a clutter of unstable objects — creating an ambiguous spatial illusion. Note how the stripes on the wallpaper on the right do not recede into the corner of the room, thereby flattening the space.
While the small white dog having a siesta on the floor beside the bed is facing away from the woman, the shape of its body echoes the shape of her back, and its front legs are stretched out in much the same way as the woman’s arms. Bonnard often introduced images of animals unexpectedly into his paintings.3

Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1905
(The National Gallery)
In the Woman with a Fan from Picasso's Blue Period, the Buddhist gesture of the figure's hand has been noted.  

Henri Matisse, Woman With a Hat, 1905
(San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

First exhibited at the 1905 Salon d'Automne in Paris, this work was at the center of the controversy that led to the christening of the first modern art movement of the twentieth century — Fauvism. The term fauve ("wild beast"), coined by an art critic, became forever associated with the artists who exhibited their brightly colored canvases in the central gallery (dubbed the cage centrale) of the Grand Palais.Femme au chapeau marked a stylistic change from the regulated brushstrokes of Matisse's earlier work to a more expressive individual style. His use of non-naturalistic colors and loose brushwork, which contributed to a sketchy or "unfinished" quality, seemed shocking to the viewers of the day.The artist's wife, Amélie, posed for this half-length portrait. She is depicted in an elaborate outfit with classic attributes of the French bourgeoisie: a gloved arm holding a fan and an elaborate hat perched atop her head. Her costume's vibrant hues are purely expressive, however; when asked about the hue of the dress Madame Matisse was actually wearing when she posed for the portrait, the artist allegedly replied, "Black, of course."The expatriate Stein family (Michael, Sarah, Leo, and Gertrude) bought the painting soon after its initial showing. Although Leo characterized the work as "the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen." 4
Included in this gallery was also Leo Stein's first purchase, Woman in White by Raoul du Gardier, which he sold quite quickly. 

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Boy, 1905
(Cleveland Museum of Art)
Raoul du Gardier, Woman in White, 1902


GALLERY THREE is devoted to Sarah and Michael Stein's apartment at 58 rue Madame and their preference for Matisse becomes clear here. 
I found Matisse's Young Sailor I particularly interesting because this painting is referred to as the first work he did with forced deformations and there is a second version at the Metropolitan's collection that is even more interesting. Pink Onions 1906 - 1907, Matisse made in Collioure is also in this gallery. 

A very interesting Self-Portrait, 1906 by Matisse is also on view at Gallery Four. This was thought to be too candid to be displayed out in the open by Gertrude Stein. 

Henri Matisse, Pink Onions, 1906-7
Henri Matisse, Young Sailor I, 1906
(Private Collection)

Henri Matisse, Self-Portrait, 1906
(Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen)

My other favorites from this gallery are two paintings by Picasso's Blue Period that Sarah and Michael had hanging on two sides of a doorway - The Soup hung next to Asian art that it recalls and Melancholy Woman, 1902 

Pablo Picasso, The Soup, 1902
(Art Gallery of Ontario)
Pablo Picasso, Melancholy Woman, 1902
(Detroit Institute of Art)


GALLERY FOUR is devoted to Stein's Friendship with Artists featuring portraits of the family as well as Self-portraits by artists. 

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905-6
(Metropolitan Museum of Art

The famous portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso hangs in this gallery. The face was repainted after Picasso spent a summer in Spain. According to the Metropolitan Museum's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, this painting foreshadows Cubism due to the reduction of the figure to simple masses and the face to a mask with heavy lidded eyes recalling African, Roman and Iberian sculptures.
They included a quote from Picasso on the gallery label that speaks volumes:
"Yes, everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference. She will."

The postcards Matisse sent to Sarah and Michael when they were in America is the proof of the level of intimacy between the artist and the family.  Notice Matisse's son Pierre's expression in The postcard that has the Sketch of the Artist's Family at the far right - Matisse has included an explanatory note under Pierre's picture "le plus mechant" ( the nastiest one) 

Henri Matisse, Postcard with a Sketch of the Painter's Family, 1911
Henri Matisse, Postcard with a Sketch of the Artist's Family


One of the most impressive parts of the exhibit was the dialog the curators have created between the works of art which is especially prominent in GALLERY FIVE, which is about the Stein's Saturday Salons.  Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse is at the entrance of this gallery which offers a great comparison to Matisse's Boy with Butterfly Net, displayed in Gallery Four. 

Henri Matisse, Boy with Butterfly Net, 1907
(Minneapolis Institute of the Arts)

Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-06

The rivalry between Matisse and Picasso was legendary. In some of their works they seemed to be fighting a duel of sorts. This exhibit calls into attention the similarities between these two paintings, suggesting Matisse may have been thinking of Picasso when he painted this painting of  Sarah and Michael's son, Allan  Stein.

Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait, 1906
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Picasso's Self-Portrait, from 1906 the same year he painted the Gertrude Stein also in this gallery seems like the visual manifestation of his "extraordinary seeing eye". The gallery label includes a quote from Leo Stein that befits this Self-Portrait perfectly: 
"When Picasso had looked at a drawing or a print, I was surprised that anything was left on the paper, so absorbing was his gaze. He spoke little and seemed neither remote not intimate - just completely there."6
 Also in Gallery Five are the three La Coiffure paintings by Henri Charles Manguin, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and Matisse's Blue Nude.


GALLERY SIX that goes back to Sarah and Michael includes a portrait of their son Allan by Matisse that is particularly noteworthy due to its background color. Pink background was making a comeback during the first year of the 20th century and it could be found in the works of Gauguin, (1903, 1905), Van Gogh (1901, 1905) as well as the Nude with Joined Hands by Picasso that is also in this exhibit. 

Henri Matisse, Allan Stein, ca 1907
(Kaiserman Family)

GALLERY SEVEN encompasses the time period beginning with Gertrude and Leo's separation of their collection when Leo decided to move out. Leo was interested in color while Gertrude's interest was more aligned to Picasso's Cubism so Gertrude kept the Picasso paintings while Leo took sixteen Renoirs in their collection commenting
"Rather an amusing baggage for a leader in the great modern fight."7 

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, 1909
(Art Institute of Chicago)
Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Man, 1908
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
There are some very indicative works by Picasso displaying the concepts that led to Cubism in this gallery. Head of a Woman from 1909 is considered to be the beginning of his Cubist phase.  It is a portrait of his girlfriend, Fernande where the figure and especially the face has been divided into planes.

Pablo Picasso, The Architect's Table, 1912
Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Fruit, Glass and Newspaper, 1914
(Kreeger Museum, Washington, D.C.)
TheArchitect's Table by Picasso is noted as Gertrude's first purchase by herself after her separation from Leo.  Along with Picasso, Gertrude also collected Juan Gris' Cubist works. She believed that only Spaniards could do justice to Cubism which explains the obvious lack of any works by Braque in her collection.

Juan Gris, Flowers, 1914
(Private Collection)

Gertrude Stein's most famous quotation "A rose is a rose is a rose" from her 1913 poem is associated Gris' Flowers where he has used pasted paper with roses on them, an interesting representation of Synthetic Cubism.

Part of the appeal of this exhibition is the amount of works from Private Collections that are on display.  Some of the works  present in this exhibition are quite different from the one's we study in textbooks.


GALLERY EIGHT Sarah and Michael After World War I includes their project for doing the same thing for architecture that they had done for painting by engaging the Swiss architect Le Corbusier to design a villa for their family outside of Paris, in Garches.
Les Corbusier's five points of architecture were incorporated into this revolutionary work:

1. Pillars for support
2. Roof Gardens
3. An Open Plan
4. Ribbon Windows for Maximum Light
5. Free Facade

After Sarah and Michael lent their collection to an exhibit of Matisse's works in Berlin and could not get them back due to the start of World War I, Matisse painted Tea in the Garden for them which depicted a typical daily scene where two women sit in the shade of trees on a sunny summer afternoon in Matisse's garden with the family dog. The figure on the right with her shoe dangling from her foot is easily identifiable as Marguerite, Matisse's daughter, since she has on a black ribbon around her neck. She often wore the black ribbon to hide a scar from a childhood illness.  The samovar on the table was a present from Sarah Stein.

Henri Matisse, Tea in the Garden, 1919

This gallery includes Matisse's portraits of Sarah and Michael by  as well as The Bay of Nice, 1918 which is thought to have provided a lot of inspiration to West Coast American artists who would have seen it in the Stein's home in Palo Alto. 

Henri Matisse, The Bay of Nice, 1916
(Private Collection)


GALLERY NINE is the final gallery in the exhibit that has works that were collected by Gertrude and Alice in the 1920's and 1930's with an eye to discover the next generation of artists.

Gertrude was not able to discover another Picasso but she still did discover and support some very interesting artists which Francis Picabia was one.

As with Picasso, they became great friends and Picabia and his wife even gave Gertrude and Alice a dog which is seen in some of Gertrude's later portraits. 

Francis Picabia, Pa, 1932
(Private Collection)

The other part of the Gallery is devoted to Portraits of Gertrude. I have to finish with one of my favorite paintings from the exhibit, Homage to Gertrude Stein, 1949 which was painted posthumously. Rose has depicted Gertrude in all her glory with the elements that were an inherent part of her life- Alice is looking in thorough the window, their two dogs lie at Gertrude's feet, she is wearing her customary shapeless costume, with a piece of paper in her hand and surrounded with works of art.  I think this is one of the most flattering portraits of Stein. 

Francis Rose, Homage to Gertrude Stein, 1949
(Private Collection)
 As you are about to exit, you come to a video of an opera, Four Saints for which Stein wrote the libretto and Stein's opening words where she is talking about the opera on NBC can be the final word in Modernist art.
"Afterall, when you say they do not understand Four Saints what do you mean?  Of course they understand or they would not listen to it. You mean by understanding that you can talk about it in the way that you have the habit of talking... but I mean by understanding enjoyment. If you enjoy it you understand it."


1 Metropolitan Museum of Art,
2  Metropolitan Museum of Art,
3  National Gallery of Art,
4  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,

5 Metropolitan Museum of Art,

6 Metropolitan Museum of Art, THE STEINS COLLECT: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, Gallery Label

7 Metropolitan Museum of Art, THE STEINS COLLECT: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde, Gallery Label

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