J U N E 5, 2011

I recommend that those of you who happen to be in San Francisco this summer should attend a festival dedicated to the American writer Gertrude Stein, a cult figure of the early twentieth-century Paris beau monde. Click here for the full list of festival events. I advise you to at least visit the exhibition “The Steins Collect:  Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-garde” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), to which major museums and private American collectors lent their artworks.

The exposition presents the bulk of the collection formed by Gertrude Stein jointly with her brother Leo, as well as by their eldest brother Michael and his wife Sarah. Leo Stein came to Paris in 1902 to become an artist. Gertrude followed suit and was later joined by Michael and Sarah. They met young Paris artists and decided to buy pictures they liked. They were the first not only to recognize the potential of Matisse and Picasso, but also to introduce their works to friends in America.  After a devastating earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 Michael had to go back home on business. He brought along three paintings by Matisse and thus triggered interest in the artist among the American collectors.

stein moma Gertrude Stein Festival in San Francisco

The exhibition gives an idea of the immaculate taste of the first collectors of Matisse and Picasso and of their contribution to the emergence of the Paris school of artists.  On show are also works by Cézanne, whose fan Leo was, artists associated with Matisse and Picasso, students of the Matisse academy – artists from Central and Eastern Europe, including Rudolf Levy, and also Gertrude Stein herself. The exhibition offers a chance to trace how the collection was formed and the contribution of every member of the family to its growth. After dividing the collection with Gertrude Leo played a signal role by selling his part to Albert Barnes and thus keeping it integral. Barnes went on collecting on his own and later on created his museum of French art (Barnes Foundation) .Those who have read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein may be interested to learn new particulars of her life and get a more objective idea of her character. The exhibition also showcases a lot of photographs and documents. The museum site has fascinating videos, including documentary reels of early twentieth-century Paris and San Francisco.

Another interesting show – Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories – is held concurrently within the San Francisco festival framework at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which opened in 2008. Among the exhibits are Gertrude’s portraits in painting, graphic works and photographs of the 1920s and 1930s and articles written about her in newspapers of that period.

On August 18-21 a restored opera Four Saints in Three Acts, for which Gertrude Stein wrote the libretto in 1934, will be produced at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In its time the opera was a real hit on Broadway.

In conclusion let me mention that it took eleven years to prepare the festival, which will be on till early September before moving to Washington.