Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gertrude's Ghost...A Salon is a Gallery is a Museum is a Salon

If you had been so gloriously fortunate to have been in Paris during the 1910s,and 1920s, and to have been invited by Mademoiselle Gertrude Stein,who had a habit of forgetting who she invited,to come to 27 Rue de Fleurus for her Saturday evening Salon...you would have been able to see,albeit with some difficulty in the fluttering gaslight,one of the most audacious,controversial, and spectacular collections of avant-garde,modernist paintings ever to be gathered outside of a gallery or museum.

Gertrude Stein's provocative and stunning assemblage of Cezannes,Matisses,Picassos,Miros,Toulouse-Lautrecs,Gauguins,and Renoirs,and others,lined up row upon row across the three white-washed,wood panelled walls of her atelier in Montparnasse on the Left Bank...right up to the ceiling...were an astounding and monumental testament to Gertrude's and her brother,Leo's,incredible artistic astuteness and foresight...and constitute,in effect, the first museum of Modern Art.
Ernest Hemingway remarked in his A Moveble Feast that going to Miss Stein's apartment was like going to a museum
with all of her wonderful works of art displayed on her walls.
Ironically, years later when the director of collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City tried to persuade Gertrude to leave her landmark modern art collection to MOMA...Gertrude refused to do so,saying,"You can be a museum or you can be modern, but you can't be both".

On these Saturday evenings at 27 Rue de Fleurus, guests would come through the double doors and find Gertrude garbed in brown corduroy sitting in a high-backed Renaissance chair next to a large cast-iron stove that kept the room comfortably warm...

You might have seen among the sparkling crowd gathered around Gertrude,and in the early days of the Salon, her brother Leo,...Picasso looking like an intense young bootblack, his attractive mistress,Fernande Olivier, and Matisse looking like a German professor with a reddish beard and spectacles. Next to him might have been the poet Guillaume Apollinaire with his painter friend, Marie Laurencin. The tall man of superior stature among the shorter Cubists, would have been the painter Georges Braque who was the "official hanger-of-paintings" in Gertrude's Salon.

Just a few of the now famous paintings ,considered at the time by most of the French to be "deliberate hoaxes",hanging on the Salon's walls were the historic "Femme au Chapeau" by Matisse...a painting of Mme.Matisse in a "superabundant hat" which had caused a scandal at another Salon,the Salon d'Automne, in 1905 where it was first exhibited.The Salon d'Automne of 1905 introduced Fauvism to the Paris art public to some shock,political cartooning, and public disparagement. The purchase of this painting by Gertrude and Leo Stein has been called "an act of considerable courage and extraordinary discernment".It was also the painting purchase that initiated the friendship of Gertrude with the great modern French master, Henri Matisse.

And Gertrude also bought Matisse's "Bonheur de Vivre" soon after the artist completed it, and hung it in her dining room for all to see...
One person who saw "Bonheur de Vivre", and became determined to out do Matisse's painting was Picasso.He trumped Matisse's famous painting in 1907 with his seminal canvas, Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Gertrude's friendship with Matisse and his wife was considerably dampened when she developed a much greater interest in Pablo Picasso. It was damaged,almost beyond repair, with the publication of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in which Gertrude described Mme.Matisse as having "a long face and a firm large loosely hung mouth like a horse".

Self-Portrait,1899-1900,charcoal on paper,
Museu Picasso,Barcelona

Some of the Picasso's hanging on Gertrude's Walls
Gertrude's friendship with and admiration of Picasso as a "true genius" was expressed in her written homage to him,Picasso, and there were at least 37 Picasso paintings hanging on the walls of her Salon.In addition to many of his Cubist paintings, she also had a stunning painting from his Rose period on her wall...Boy Leading A Horse(1905-1906)...this painting expresses remarkably the unity of man and nature in his use of color and alignment of the forms of both the horse and the nude boy.
But perhaps the most notable and now famous Picasso painting hanging on Gertrude's wall was Picasso's "Portrait of Gertrude Stein" that she sat for at least 80 times in his studio during the winter of 1906.

When someone commented to Picasso that Stein didn't look like her portrait, Picasso replied, "She will".
Later reflecting on Picasso's portrait of her ( now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City), Gertrude said,
                    "I was and still am satisfied with my portrait, for me
                     it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is
                     always I, for me."
Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein is a compelling, mask-like face, and it is a perfect transitional work, joining Picasso and Gertrude irrevocably together, and marking the beginnings of Cubism and the modern movement in art.It was one of the few paintings that Gertrude kept with her when she and her life companion,Alice B. Toklas, left Paris for their country house with the outbreak of World War II.
Gertrude Stein remarkably understood the far-reaching implications of Cubism and abstract art, and that "beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic.
In the end, she very simply expressed how she felt about Modern Art...she said..."I like to look at it".
Suggested Reading:
1. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,Gertrude Stein
2. Picasso, Gertrude Stein
3. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.~Ernest Hemingway,A Moveable Feast

Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by graphic designer,Yann Legendre whose illustrations of writers who lived and wrote in Paris in the 20th century appear in the anthology,Paris au pied de la lettre by Mathilde Helleu.

4. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company, James R. Mellow
5. What is Remembered, Alice B. Toklas
6. Staying On Alone, Alice B. Toklas     



  2. Dee...thanks so much for your lovely comments on the Stein Salon posting...I'm so glad you liked it!As far as I've been able to determine...Modigliani was not on the walls of 27 Rue de Fleurus...while many artists visited the Stein Salon..many of these same artists were not represented among the paintings on the walls of 27...Gertrude's,and her brother Leo's,collection was dominated by Renoir,Cezanne, Matisse,and Picasso...please post again after your visit to Paris...and be sure and stop by 27 Rue de Fleurus while you're there! Kathleen

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks,Annette! Glad you enjoyed my piece on Stein...hope you become an official "follower" of my art blog.KF

  4. Here with is a link leading to some information you may or may not know. We in Baltimore are very proud of our Cone collection. Many of the legendary paintings are displayed in a solon setting at the Baltimore Museum.