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 André 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.
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 37). Picasso demonstrated the breakdown of art and painting into its simplest form; Stein did the same with language. As their relationship developed, Picasso and Stein began having a tremendous influence on each other's works, although Myers noted that ultimately Stein was more influenced by Picasso's work than vice versa since he was unable to read English, her main language of expression (37).
The level of intimacy that was achieved by Picasso and Stein goes deeper than the Saturday evening soirées, though. Stein was to the world of literature what Picasso was to the world of art. They shared the same vision for their respective means of artistic expression and excelled at introducing the world to a new, more free style of relaying its ideas. Stein shared in Picasso's struggle "not to express what he could see but not to express the things he did not see, that is to say the things everybody is certain of seeing but which they do not really see" (Stein 19). So ultimately, in portraying Picasso, Gertrude Stein managed to reveal herself to her readers. " . . . [It] must never be forgotten that the only way Picasso has of speaking, the only way Picasso has of writing is with drawings and paintings" (Stein 38).
Stein, in her book Picasso, repeatedly reminds the reader of the similarities between Spaniards and Americans. She writes, " . . . Spaniards and Americans . . . have something in common, that is they do not need religion or mysticism not to believe in reality as all the world knows it, not even when they see it. In fact, reality for them is not real and that is why there are skyscrapers and American literature and Spanish painting and...
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. 1998
Stein, Gertrude. Picasso. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1984
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