The Steins – Their Adventure in Being Avant-Garde

photo_famille_Stein_1906, © New Haven, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale

What fits in two small Paris apartments but takes up two exhibition floors at the Grand Palais? The Stein Collection.

Gertrude Stein, the writer, and writer’s magnet in the early twentieth century was also an art collector. She, her brothers and sister-in-law set an avant-garde trend that showcased Matisse and Picasso. The original collection is so large that it now takes up two floors of the Grand Palais/RMN in Paris for the exhibition “Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso… L’aventure des Stein“.

Gertrude and Leo Stein lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Their older brother, Michael, and his wife, Sarah, lived close by in a small two-bedroom apartment with a long hallway and high ceilings. They collected the work of artists before the artists became famous (Matisse, Picasso) or as an artist was being recognized (Cézanne). The collections covered their apartment walls.

This adventure in art collecting at the advent of modernism can be seen in Paris until January 16, 2012. It then moves to New York City and back to San Francisco (the family’s United States home). If you cannot be here or there, listen to their story forever with the Grand Palais audio guide purchased from iTunes – refer to “Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso….”.

The exhibition
Divided into three parts, you first meet Leo, whose 1902 arrival in Paris draws the rest of the family to join him and pursue their own curiosities about art.

Picasso-Stein-Poster-Matisse-CezanneThe second section introduces you to Michael, the older brother, in charge of the Stein finances, and his wife, Sarah, who arrive in 1904. They originally thought about opening an antique store. What a contrast of ideas, when you consider they were the patrons of and life-long collaborators with the modern Matisse.

The third section is devoted to Gertrude Stein who left her psychiatric medical and psychology studies to join her brother in 1903. This portion of the exhibition focuses also on her relationship with Picasso. She and Leo were his first patrons.

Initially, upon moving in Paris, Leo and Gertrude’s sharp artistic eyes went for Renoir, Manet, Degas. Shortly, they began buying Matisee and Picasso. Michael and Sarah’s eyes were strongest for Matisse. The family, who began training their artistic recognition on turn-of-the-century artists saw what was art’s future. With money from their father’s business and inheritance, the Steins lived a bohemian lifestyle developing their eye for these up-and-coming artists.Femme_au_Chapeau-1905 - internet photo-Matisse

The works, dispersed around the world, are now reassembled in Paris to show the collection’s vastness and the family’s gift of perception.

Saturday Night at the Steins
The Steins found and patronized Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse. The family was at the forefront of “isms”: fauvism, cubism and surrealism….. Leo, Gertrude, Michael and Sarah bought when these three artists and others were affordable, prior to 1914. It was an artistic heyday of “Saturday nights at the Steins”.  The invited came to see the new purchases. Their celebrated 1905 find was Matisse’s colorful facial depiction of his wife, the “scandalous” La Femme au chapeau. It caused such a stir, that everyone wanted to be a part of the Saturday night event to see it.

The evening began at 6 p.m. at Michael and Sarah’s. At 9 p.m. the party moved to Leo and Gertrude’s. Leo explained art to the party guests with a passion; Gertrude listened and learned.

After the First World War, her talent for spotting avant-garde art works turned toward writers. In one corner of the exhibit, a video shows her reading from her writings. In this section, you learn of her influence on the “lost generation“.  You will better understand the few segments of the movie “Midnight in Paris” when people collect around Gertrude Stein at home on rue de Fleurus. Artists, sculptors and writers would later characterize and portray her as “an artistic guru”.

More about the exhibit
The exhibition is on two floors. You cannot return to the beginning of the exhibit, which begins on the upper level, once you go down the stairs. I had a hard time leaving to take the stairs, afraid that I had missed something.

The magnitude of this collection blew me away. It was hard to imagine that back in time, people really searched out the art market looking for the classics and in the Steins case the precursors of new art. And how did they fit it all into such small spaces? Did they really own all of this? I had to return through the exhibit a second time verifying the ownership label next to each piece of art.

Each label shows names and dates when pieces were exchanged between Leo, or Gertrude or with Michael and Sarah. At one time, they owned it all. In 1913 Leo and Gertrude split from each other at rue Fleurus and split the art. They went their separate artistic ways because Leo cared neither for Picasso’s new cubism, nor Gertrude’s direction in art preferences and her companion, Alice B. Toklas.

Michael and Sarah lost many of their Matisse paintings when they were impounded. They were shipped to Berlin for an exhibition and never received them back. Their shipment coincided with the start of the First World War in 1914.

The exhibition and the audio guides provide fascinating stories of this family, their life style, their influence on the rivalry between Picasso and Matisse, who first met each other at the Stein’s. The exhibition demonstrates the development of artistic techniques and avant-garde forms before they became the norm.

gertrude-stein-1.1292598652.thumbnail-internet photoA Clairvoyant Portrait
Pablo Picasso painted a portrait of Gertrude Stein around 1906 soon after she and Leo became the patrons and collectors of Picasso’s art. He began using his split image of an eye looking one way while the other looks right at the viewer. Stein is leaning forward, looking sure of herself, hair tight to her head in contrast to other photos of her in the early 1900s.

Some one remarked that the painting did not look like Gertrude Stein to which Picasso replied, “It will.”

Across the room on a wall with Man Ray photos from the families’ collection is a photo with Gertrude Stein standing in front of the portrait many years later. She has become the painting’s image.

Plans for the Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso….The Stein Family
This exhibit was first shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (May 21 to September 6, 2011). After Paris, the exhibit moves to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (February 1 to June 3, 2012) before its return to San Francisco (watch the videos).

Recommendation for the audio guide
No matter where you rent, buy and download them, all of the audio guides are produced by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN).

These are the alternatives to access an audio guide for any exhibits at the Grand Palais:
1) Rent an audio guide at the museum for five euros in various languages.
2) Order, pay and download the audio guide (without illustrations) from the RMN Web site
3) Buy and download the application for your iPad or phone at the museum using their WiFi connection.
4) Buy and download ahead of time the application from iTunes.

The museum’s audio guide player is easy to use and you drop it off when you are finished.

If you download the audio guide from the RMN Web site and have any problems, call the phone number and someone will help you who speaks English. (I had a problem; it was resolved.  With my payment confirmation number, they sent me the link for the download.) The downloaded audio guide works well when the paintings are in front of you. It is yours to re-listen as often as you like.

The advantage with the iPhone application is the image and the accompanying number. Instead of looking for the number on the wall at the exhibition, you can spot the image. When you want to re-listen later on, the image is on your phone and serves as a quick search reference. The iPad application is more advanced because it provides text information.

The RMN’s did you know section for more visitor information.

Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso …. The Stein Family
Grand Palais, Galaries nationales
until January 16, 2012
Open: Friday to Monday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.,
Tuesday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
December 24 and 31: closes at 6 p.m.
Closed December 25
Metro: Line 1, Chalmps-Elysées-Clemenceau
Information on tickets and audio guide downloads
Catalog available – if buying the nine euros catalog (in French) at the Grand Palais, I recommend “Connaissance des arts” with La femme au chapeau on the cover.

stein-et-toklas-rue-de-fleurus, internet photoResidenceLeo study-internet photoGertrude Stein 27 - paintings on wall - internet photo

 

 

 

gertrude et alice 27 fleurus 1934 - internet photo

 

 

 

 

 

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