Friday, May 20, 2011

The Steins Return Home

(images courtesy of

This Saturday, May 21, The Stein's Collect opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Gertrude, Leo, Michael, and Michael's wife Sarah, were pioneers of modern art. After moving to Paris in the first decade of the 20th century, the Steins began to amass a collection that is hard to rival today. Originally from the Bay area, they became expats and dove head first into the bohemian society in the city, counting Picasso and Matisse as close friends. The Left-Bank apartment which Gertrude shared with her brother Leo became the exhibition space for modern art, before it was "modern art," and at a time when it was not being showcased widely in museums. Gertrude and Picasso developed a long-lasting friendship, and one of the pieces in the collection on view is a portrait of her. The Steins were not afraid to house controversial material, and held salons on Saturday evenings at their homes for friends and neighbors to come view their art and have heated discussions.

As patrons of relatively unknown artists at the time, the Steins spent their modest means on art, and only art. Which explains why the collection going on view tomorrow contains roughly 200 pieces. They were responsible for bringing Matisse's work to the U.S., which simultaneously shocked viewers, and yet became hugely influential on many young artists. As the SFMOMA's website explains, "the not a Picasso or Matisse retrospective...but tells the story of the Steins and their lives as highly unusual but frequently brilliant collectors and patrons." A story rife with drama, which sounds best fit for a novel. (Can anyone recommend one on the subject??) A rivalry developed surrounding Picasso and Matisse, along with a dispute between Gertrude and Leo that would ultimately lead to their estrangement. At the time of the Stein's rise to the top of the Parisian avant-garde, art was moving in a new direction, and as collectors, the Steins made bold moves. But fortunately for us as viewers a century later, they made all the right moves.

"It is no exaggeration that the Steins did more to support avant-garde painting than any other collectors or institutions anywhere in the first decade of the 20th century."
Emily Braun, art historian

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