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The Self-Portraits of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso

It is no wonder that Picasso, with his revolutionary style of painting, would be attracted to Gertrude Stein’s crowded Rue de Fleurus apartment on Saturday evenings for intellectual discussions on art and literature. From the barefoot dances and improvisational plays of Max Jacob to the comments of critics and would-be art patrons like Maurice Raynal and Andre Salmon, this salon was an assortment of artists, bohemians, professionals, and foreigners (Myers 18; Olivier 139). The beginnings of a marvelous relationship sparked betwixt the words of aversion and praise that filled the halls of the Steins’ extravagant home. Picasso proved to be rather opinionated, spending the greater part of his visits to the Steins’ residence sulking in the corner. He found difficulty in explaining his far-fetched opinions and positions, especially in French; in fact, he felt they needed no explanation. Frequent explication of his views, mixed with Matisse’s inspired advocation of his own way of painting, failed to entertain Picasso, and thus most viewed him as a rather disagreeable character. Still Picasso returned each Saturday to sit aloof and observe the conversation of Paris’ elite intellectuals. It was not until Picasso began his portrait of Gertrude Stein that their relationship began to flourish.

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Over ninety sittings brought Stein to Bateau Lavoir to be Picasso’s first live model in years. Rodenbeck in her essay entitled “Insistent Presence in Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein” observed that,

Stein was upper middle class, a trained scientist, a non-practicing Jew, a lesbian, over-educated, American and, in 1905, shy with accented French; Picasso, by contrast, was bohemian, a lapsed but highly superstitious Catholic, vigorously heterosexual, self-education, and a Spaniard with accented French. But their attraction was immediate. (4)

Hobhouse writes, “Both were direct, a little rough with company, greedy, childish in their enthusiasms and petulant in their dislikes. . . . And both, at the time, were beginning to be convinced they were geniuses” (68). They experienced the same events and people in Paris prior to and during the Cubist movement, a common exposure that developed them in the same direction artistically (Myers …

…n alone into the future of artistic expression. They were able to reflect themselves in their work and portray the reality in the things that exist, not just the things that can be seen. Yet the most remarkable aspect of this reformation is that they approached such a complex and broad way of thinking in the most simplistic of fashions. They were able to overcome the discouraging criticisms of their skeptics to create what is considered among the most precious of all movements in art.

Works Cited

Hobhouse, Janet. Everybody Who Was Anybody: A Biography of Gertrude Stein. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1975.

Mellow, James R. Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Co. New York and Washington: Praeger Publishers, 1974.

Myers, Marjorie R. “Gertrude Stein: The Cubist Years.” Diss. Tulane U, 1979.

Olivier, Fernande. Picasso and His Friends. Trans. Jane Miller. New York: Appleton-Century, 1965.

Rodenbeck, Judith. “Insistent Presence in Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein”. Columbia U. Fall 1993. 20 Sep. 1998Stein, Gertrude. Picasso. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1984

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