Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
Look at this, look at those masterpieces of Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne. The whole collection of the Stein family looks like an imaginary museum of modernity. But it was not imaginary at all. It was very real. And you can admire it in the Grand Palais.
“Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso” – the title of the exhibition says it all: the most important painters of the 20th century are all here. Visiting the collection of this out-of-the ordinary American family, you realize that the Steins played a central role in Paris and for modern art in general.
They arrived in Paris at the turn of the century. Leo Stein set up house with his sister Gertrude, their brother Michael with his wife Sarah. The settled in Saint-Germain, where else? Leo and Gertrude in rue de Fleurus. Michael and Sarah in rue Madame. And very quickly, they became the first people to collect modern painters, which most of the French collectors regarded with general disapproval. Henry McBride, famous art critic of the time, said about the Stein collection: “in proportion to its size and quality … (it is) just about the most potent of any that I have ever heard of in history.”
Often the perspective from outside is important. It was the case with the Stein and their love story with modern art. They were Americans, they were very unconventional, Gertrude was lesbian for example and didn’t hide it at all, but most of all they had a different vision of what beauty was, and enough sensibility and intelligence to feel the temperature of the century. “Barefoot in their Delphic sandals, they raised scientific brows to the sky”, said the poet Apollinaire.
Each Saturday they held their salons, which attracted foreigners passing through Paris, but also Parisian artists and intellectuals, the whole art scene of the time. Everybody came to see and admire the new acquisitions. And to train their eyes.
If you’ve ever read Gertrude Steins book about her early years in Paris and life with her partner Alice B. Toklas (“Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas), or “The very rich hours of Adrienne Monnier”, who had a bookstore close to the one of her friend Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, you really are immersed in the epoch and got an idea of how exiting and artistically prolific it was.
Anyhow, the exhibition at the Grand Palais brings together an outstanding ensemble of works. There is not only the famous painting of Matisse “Femme au Chapeau”, there are works by Manet, Renoir, Degas, Braque, Masson, Juan Gris, you name it.
The last of the eight sections is entirely dedicated to Gertrude. You can admire the many portraits made of her and you get an idea of the myth of this woman, that was a woman, that was a woman, that was a woman.
There is one thing that the exhibition fails to convey: the enormous rivalry between Matisse and Picasso. They competed from the very beginning as to which one of them could place the most emblematic canvas in the Stein salons. When Picasso painted the portraits of Gertrude and Leo, Matisse was immediately commissioned to do the same with Sarah and Michael. You don’t get an idea of the crush that happened back than, when the paintings were hung close packed in their small apartments.“The Stein Family: Matisse Cézanne, Picasso….” – Until 22 January 2012 – FINISHED! Grand Palais 3, Avenue de Winston Churchill 75008 Paris