The Steins Collect


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This Picasso is the cover of The Steins Collect, an art history book my neighbor Dave gave me in a haul of several boxes from a late relative who worked at SF MOMA– I am so fortunate to have verbalized my love of books; they just keep coming.

This one is full of the art collections from the Stein family, largely Leo and Gertrude, but Michael and Sarah as well. Intertwined are essays — three of which grabbed my attention especially: “Leo without Gertrude”, “Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso: In Their Own Words” and “Gertrude Stein as a Portrait Painter”. There are other essays and I did not read all of them in full, but this was a fun historical perspective on the Stein family and through what I did read, I learned a lot.

I had no idea that Leo and Gertrude ended their relationship over Cubism! Gertrude wrote the Alice Toklas biography from the perspective that Leo really did not exist, though he had been critical in attaining many of the Renoir paintings they studied. In the essay “Leo without Gertrude” Gertrude is presented in pretty poor light– funny how many egotistical men get a pass but Gertrude calling herself a genius is soooooooo fucking offensive! I love Gertrude Stein for exactly this reason.

It is said in the essay about Gertrude and Pablo, that Gertrude made Picasso an artist– she made him famous through her salons and conversations (of which it sounds like she was better than Leo– another offense!) — it is fascinating to think about how little people know about Gertrude Stein and yet we all know Picasso, right?

Leo died and his obit in the NYTimes said in the byline “Gertrude’s Brother Dies” — ah, how that must have made him turn! I imagine he was also hurt by Gertrude’s erasure of his existence, but I would have loved to ask her about the whole thing.

This was a fun and surprising discovery in a box of art books! I’ll keep digging.

2 comments on “The Steins Collect”

  1. Oh, I know this book which I found in the Dallas Museum of Art’s library. I was researching which pieces of art were owned by the Steins at the time Gertrude wrote Tender Buttons (published 1914) because several of us in ModPo were reading the poems together. Could certain poems be ekphrastic? This was a terrific resource I couldn’t check out, so I sat in the library looking at the photographs inside the Steins’ living space and cross-referencing the lists of the artworks. Just my kind of crazy rabbit hole to jump into. I was looking specifically at the Objects section. I just want to believe that the artwork is in there somewhere, waiting for me to give this more attention. Just look at the book’s cover image you’ve posted of Matisse’s “Woman with a Hat” (1905) and think about the fact that there is a Tender Buttons poem titled “A RED HAT.” Now this hat isn’t red, but would Gertrude make it that easy for us?

    I intended to get back to the library to read the essays, but somehow that intention fell by the wayside. I have read some other books about the Steins, though. Leo and Gertrude divided their collection after Alice B. Toklas came into the household and Leo left, and not happily. Leo had come to dislike Picasso’s direction, so he was happy to take the Impressionist paintings and leave the Picassos with Gertrude. Can you imagine divvying up such a collection? It boggles the mind!

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