Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1898–1900; The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection; Photo: Mitro Hood
In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein writes:
"During Gertrude Stein's last two years at the Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, 1900-1903, her brother was living in Florence. There he heard of a painter named Cezanne and saw paintings by him owned by Charles Loeser. When he and his sister made their home in Paris the following year they went to Vollard's the only picture dealer who had Cezannes for sale, to look at them...
Later on Vollard explained to every one that he had been visited by two crazy americans and they laughed and he had been much annoyed but gradually he found out that when they laughed most they usually bought something so of course he waited for them to laugh.
From that time on they went to Vollard's all the time. They had soon the privilege of upsetting his piles of canvases and finding what they liked in the heap. They bought a tiny little Daumier, head of an old woman. They began to take an interest in Cezanne nudes and they finally bought two tiny canvases of nude groups. They found a very very small Manet painted in black and white with Forain in the foreground and bought it, they found two tiny little Renoirs. They frequently bought in twos because one of them usually liked one more than the other one did, and so the year wore on."
Pablo Picasso, The Architect's Table, 1912; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the William S. Paley Collection, 1971; © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, N
The brother was Leo Stein, who was later written out of history by his sister after their decade of living in Paris together while collecting art. Their split was predicated on a number of things, but the primary disagreement was over Cubism and Gertrude's writing, both of which he considered "rubbish." There was also the arrival of Alice B. Toklas in Paris in 1907 and her moving in to 27, rue de Fleurus in 1910 as the lesbian partner of Gertrude after three years of mutual courtship. Leo the lecturing older brother was replaced by a loving, sexual companion. But we're getting ahead of the story.
The epochal purchase was in 1905 when Leo Stein bought the Matisse painting La Femme au chapeau (above) at the Salon des Independants. According to Janet Hobhouse's Everybody Who Was Anybody:
"Leo was not alone in finding the Matisse horrific. The public and the critics were scandalised. This challenge to a deeply-held conception of beauty now provoked an anger not known since the days of the first Impressionist exhibitions. Crowds gathered in front of his work, not merely jeering, but some poking their canes at the paintings, trying, as Gertrude later wrote, 'to scratch off the paint'. Matisse himself, severely shaken by the reaction, ventured into the Salon only once -- his wife, the model for the picture, not at all."
Henri Matisse, Michael Stein, 1916; SFMOMA, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Nathan Cummings; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ben Blackwell
"Such a reaction must have convinced Leo that La Femme au chapeau was an important work, and he set about to persuade his family they must own it. According to Gertrude in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, it was her decision to buy the painting, while Leo wasn't sure. According to [elder brother] Michael (above) and [sister-in-law] Sally Stein (below), it was they who wanted to own it. Their friend Therese Jelenko remembers their reaction 'I can still see Frenchmen doubled up with laughter before it, and Sarah saying "it's superb" and Mike couldn't tear himself away.' "
Henri Matisse, Sarah Stein, 1916; SFMOMA, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Elise S. Haas; © Succession H. Matisse; photo: Ben Blackwell
Matisse and his wife became friends with both the Leo and Gertrude household and the Michael and Sally Stein household, painting the latter's son Allan with his butterfly net (below).
Henri Matisse, Boy With A Butterfly Net, 1907; Collection The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Sally was an aspiring artist herself and organized a school run by Matisse who she fairly worshiped. When that effort collapsed after a couple of years, her considerable energies were directed towards her conversion to Christian Science, which aggravated her husband and maliciously amused the Gertrude and Leo household.
According to Hobhouse:
"The Stein family's friendship with the Matisses greatly altered the fortunes of the painter and his wife. In the immediate period that followed their meeting, Leo was to buy each year the most important works of the artist [including the 1907 Blue Nude, above left), and to sustain Matisse's belief in his own work. They were also to provide the artist with new patrons and with the society of painters (chief among these Picasso) whose works he might otherwise not have known."
Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading a Horse, 1905–6; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; © Estate of Pablo Picasso
Meanwhile, "Leo had at that time the habit of visiting, among other places of the fringe art-world of Paris, the cafe run by a former clown named Clovis Sagot...One day Clovis told him of a new discovery, the twenty-four-year-old Pablo Picasso. 'Is he like the other Spaniard?' Leo asked. Sagot assured him he was not. "This,' he said, 'is the real thing.'
01. Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905–06; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946; © Estate of Pablo Picasso
Though it was Leo who "discovered" Picasso and brought him home to dinner, the deep friendship that formed was between Pablo and Gertrude, and it lasted for decades through fights, reconciliations, two world wars, and various wives and mistresses. The friendship was initially forged over a long series of sittings she did for her famous portrait above, eight years after Picasso had stopped using live models altogether.
According to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:
"I remember not long ago hearing Picasso and Gertrude Stein talking about various things that had happened at that time, one of them said but all that could not have happened in that one year, oh said the other, my dear you forget we were young then and we did a great deal in a year."
"The Steins began to be known as collectors of strange works of modern art, and people asked to see the Cezannes and Matisses that were gradually filling the walls for their flat and adjoining studio. According to Gertrude, it was because of the irregular times of these different visits that she and Leo decided to institute their Saturday evenings. Michael and Sally soon followed their example. They chose to hold their 'salons' at an earlier hour on Saturday, so that visitors could go from one house to the other to view the latest bizarre acquisitions of the eccentric American family."
Henri Matisse, Tea, 1919; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Succession H. Matisse, Paris; Photo: © 2001 Museum Associates / LACMA / Art Resource, NY
The two households' collections were eventually broken up and sold off, for daily living expenses, for money to get through the war(s), and to pay off the gambling debts of Michael and Sally's grandson Daniel Stein (below), named after the patriarch who had sired the remarkable brood. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's show this summer is the first time the entire Stein collection has been reunited from a host of museums and private collections since the beginning of the twentieth century, and the pieces look happy together again.
Linda Wagner-Martin in her Stein family biography writes:
"The Stein family was not, ever, wealthy. It was not, finally, well educated. For its place and time, the Daniel Stein family was a maverick creation...It somehow had the trait that Gertrude defined as "American": that of knowing what it wanted and of knowing that persistence and directed attention might help in getting what it wanted. During the exciting years of "The Stein Corporation," when Leo and Gertrude and Mike and Sally shocked the art world as they purchased one painting after another by Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Gris and then moved on to live from those incredible early purchases, no other collectors took such chances or invested such a high percentage of capital...The Stein family as a unit gave the world a great deal."Click here for part 1 and here for part 2 of The Summer of Gertrude Stein.