The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Oil on canvas.
Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: April 27, 2010–August 15, 2010
"For me, it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me." Thus wrote Gertrude Stein in 1938. For Stein, this painting was proof of her irrevocable link to Picasso, whom she would come to regard as the greatest artist of her time. She saw the painting as a collaboration between two emerging giants: a twenty-four-year-old Spanish painter and a thirty-two-year-old American writer, two expatriates in Paris, each as yet unrecognized but both destined for greatness. Picasso had always been drawn to poets-his studio door was marked "Au rendez-vous des poètes"-but Gertrude’s appeal was especially strong. As Fernande Olivier wrote, Picasso "was so attracted to Mlle Stein’s physical presence that he suggested he paint her portrait, without even waiting to get to know her better."
They met after Stein had acquired several of his pictures. Although Picasso usually worked quickly, there were many sittings throughout the winter of 1905-6. The figure remained the same, but the head was repainted at least three times, evolving from a full profile to the nearly frontal view of the final state.
Stein and Picasso remained good friends. She and her brother boosted his career enormously, both through direct purchases and by encouraging others-including Ambroise Vollard and Alfred Stieglitz-to do the same. Moreover, countless artists and writers first encountered Picasso’s work at Stein’s famous Saturday salons. Stein bequeathed the portrait to the Metropolitan in 1946; it was the first painting by Picasso to enter the Museum’s collection.
In his paintings immediately prior to the early Cubist paintings of 1908, Picasso had initiated the breakdown of illusionistic space that he was to pursue with an apparently greater intellectual rigor through Cubism, a style that over the course of a decade secured his prominent place in the history of 20th-century art. For Picasso, however, the restraint of Cubism was preceded by works exhibiting a raw intensity and violence in part stimulated by his reading of non-Western art, and aligned with European currents of primitivism. This dialogue of apparently contrasting positions, between the intellect and the emotions, between forms of classicism and expressionism and between the conscious and the unconscious, provided the dynamic of much of Picasso’s work.
Picasso and his lover Fernande Olivier spent the summer of 1906 in Gósol, a remote Catalan village in the Spanish Pyrenees where he came to terms with his experience of Iberian sculptures from Osuna, which he had seen in the Louvre in the spring. The stay has become synonymous with a decisive new direction in his style, one that moved toward simplified forms with a decidedly archaic and sculptural appearance. He began in his work to make reference to forms of archaic art and to make expressive use of distortion with insistently rhythmical repetitions and contrasts. In Gósol, Picasso made his first carved sculptures. The resistance of wood produced simplified forms akin to those in his paintings. Gauguin’s work in the same medium, the most immediate European precedent available to Picasso, had been known to him through Paco Durio, a previous tenant in the Bateau-Lavoir; its primitivism had been given authority by the retrospective held at the Salon d’Automne in 1906, and it offered access to another major stimulus, the art of the Pacific Islands. At the same Salon ten paintings by the recently deceased Cézanne were exhibited. Resolving his response to the achievements of these two artists preoccupied Picasso over the next year and helped define his later work.
On his return to Paris, Picasso quickly completed his portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906), which had been left partly obliterated in the spring after over 80 sittings, giving her a mask-like visage of monumental chiseled forms compressed within a shallow space. The Stein portrait stands as a crucial shift from observation to conceptualization in Picasso’s practice. This was also followed immediately by his large "Self-Portrait with Palette" (Philadelphia Museum of Art), perhaps a pendant to Gertrude Stein.
ABOUT THE SUBJECT:
Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer and thinker who spent most of her life in France. She was well known due to her writing, art collection and the many people (some of whom were, or became, famous) who visited her Paris salon.
Her adult life featured two main personal relationships. The first was her working relationship with her brother Leo Stein, from 1874 to 1914, and the second was her romantic relationship with Alice B. Toklas, from 1907 until Stein’s death in 1946. Stein shared her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, first with Leo and then with Alice. Throughout her lifetime, Stein also had significant relationships with avant garde artists and literary people. She was friends with young artists Matisse and Picasso during the early 1900s, authors Thornton Wilder and Ernest Hemingway during the 1920s. She is credited with coining the term Lost Generation as description of her many expatriate acquaintances in France and Italy during the 1920s and 1930s.
Much of Gertrude Stein’s fame derives from a private modern art gallery she assembled, from 1904 to 1913, with her brother Leo Stein. Leo Stein’s acquaintances and study of modern art eventually resulted in the famous Stein art collections. The joint collection of Gertrude and Leo Stein began in late 1904. They spent this at Vollard’s Gallery, buying Gauguin’s Sunflowers and Three Tahitians, Cézanne’s Bathers, and two Renoirs. The art collection increased and in the first half of 1905 the Steins acquired Cézanne’s Portrait of Mme Cézanne and Delacroix’s Perseus and Andromeda. Shortly after the opening of the Paris Autumn Salon of 1905, the Steins acquired Matisse’s Woman with the Hat and Picasso’s Young Girl with Basket of Flowers. By early 1906, Leo and Gertrude Stein’s studio had many paintings by Henri Manguin, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Honoré Daumier, Henri Matisse, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Contemporaries of Leo and Gertrude, Matisse and Picasso became part of their social circle, and were a part of the early Saturday evenings at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Gertrude attributed the beginnings of the Saturday evening salons to Matisse, as more and more frequently, people began visiting to see the Matisse paintings — and the Cézannes: "Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began." Among Picasso’s acquaintances who frequented the Saturday evenings were: Fernande Olivier (Picasso’s mistress), Georges Braque (artist), André Derain (artist), Max Jacob (poet), Guillaume Apollinaire (poet), Marie Laurencin (Apollinaire’s mistress and an artist in her own right), Henri Rousseau (painter), and Joseph Stella.
In April 1914, when Leo relocated to Settignano, Italy, near Florence, and the art collection was divided, and the Steins’s holdings were dispersed eventually, by various methods and for various reasons. After Stein’s and Leo’s households separated in 1914, she continued to collect examples of Picasso’s art which had turned to Cubism. At her death, Gertrude’s remaining collection emphasized the artwork of Picasso and Juan Gris, having sold most of her other pictures.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) was a Spanish-born painter, sculptor, draughtsman, printmaker, decorative artist and writer, active in France. He dominated 20th-century European art and was central in the development of the image of the modern artist. Episodes of his life were recounted in intimate detail, his comments on art were published and his working methods recorded on film. Painting was his principal medium, but his sculptures, prints, theatre designs and ceramics all had an impact on their respective disciplines. Even artists not influenced by the style or appearance of his work had to come to terms with its implications.
With Georges Braque Picasso was responsible for Cubism, one of the most radical re-structurings of the way that a work of art constructs its meaning. During his extremely long life Picasso instigated or responded to most of the artistic dialogues taking place in Europe and North America, registering and transforming the developments that he found most fertile. His marketability as a unique and enormously productive artistic personality, together with the distinctiveness of his work and practice, have made him the most extensively exhibited and discussed artist of the 20th century.
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT:
This landmark exhibition was the first to focus exclusively on works by Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) in the Museum’s collection. It featured three hundred works, including the Museum’s complete holdings of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics by Picasso—never before seen in their entirety—as well as a selection of the artist’s prints. The Museum’s collection reflected the full breadth of the artist’s multi-sided genius as it asserted itself over the course of his long and influential career.
Notable for its remarkable constellation of early figure paintings, which include the commanding At the Lapin Agile (1905) and the iconic portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906), the Museum’s collection also stands apart for its exceptional cache of drawings, which remain relatively little known, despite their importance and number. The key subjects that variously sustained Picasso’s interest—the pensive harlequins of his Blue and Rose periods, the faceted figures and tabletop still lifes of his cubist years, the monumental heads and classicizing bathers of the 1920s, the raging bulls and dreaming nudes of the 1930s, and the rakish cavaliers and musketeers of his final years—are amply represented by works ranging in date from a dashing self-portrait of 1900 (Self-Portrait "Yo") to the fanciful Standing Nude and Seated Musketeer painted nearly seventy years later.
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