The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde

This weekend we had the pleasure of attending a pre-screening for the new Stein exhibit opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   Gertrude Stein and her brothers Leo and Michael (along with his wife Sarah) were important patrons of modern art in Paris during the first two decades of the 20th century.

If you’ve seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you’ve had a quick study in the type of environment that the Stein’s fostered, both at the apartment shared by Leo and Gertrude and the home of Michael and Sarah.  In the movie, Gertrude is portrayed by the wonderful Kathy Bates and after seeing the exhibit we watched it again, surprised by how accurate the portrayal was, right down to the little details.

Leo and Gertrude moved to Paris in the early part of the century and immediately realized that if they pooled their resources they could buy contemporary art, considering the best of investments.  Leo who had fallen in love with the works of Renoir concentrated on buying his work, while Gertrude made fast friends with a young Picasso, also collecting his paintings and drawings.  All of which were displayed on the walls of their apartment.

Their brother Michael and his wife Sarah soon followed, moving to Paris and beginning their own collection, her fascination with the works of Henri Matisse dominating their collection.  (Much of which, sadly was lost at the dawn of WWI when the principal paintings in the collection were trapped behind German lines.)

Both Gertrude and Leo (and later after the two split, Gertrude and her companion Alice), and Michael and Sarah, opened their homes as salons on Saturday and Sundays, making for a lively collection of artists, writers, and other bohemians of the time.  The Met’s exhibit encompasses 200 works from the time period, most of them having passed through the Steins’ hands at some point or another.

While the works on display are stunning, including Matisse’s Blue Nude and Picasso’s Boy Leading Horse, it is the context of their history that makes the exhibit so fascinating.  Seeing these now famous painters as relatively unknowns, who without the patronage of the Steins might never have reached their current status.

Highly recommended.  The exhibit runs through June 3rd.  And if you haven’t seen Midnight in Paris, it’s really fun to watch it either just before or just after seeing the exhibit.