Perhaps Gertrude Stein would not make such disparaging remarks about her native Oakland, Ca., today, after the nineties migration of artists and hipsters priced out by the bulging tech bubble, but at the turn of the century Stein most certainly did not find Oakland to be the cultural Mecca for which she yearned. There was plenty of “there” – and everything besides – to be found in Paris, apparently, and so Gertrude and her brothers, Leo and Michael, the latter with his wife, Sarah, all joined the many American-in-Paris expats in 1903 and 1904. It was in Paris that Stein would meet her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas, write many of her Modernist literary masterpieces and, in collaboration with her brothers, begin building one of the most impressive and influential art collections of the 20th century.
The Steins had a taste for the avant-garde, and collected what would become important works by such now-famous artists as Cézanne, Matisse, Picabia and Picasso, whose famous portrait of Stein hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were not only collectors, but avid promoters and even close friends with some of these artists. Gatherings of artists and writers at Michael and Sarah’s apartment led to their famous Saturday evening salons, and Gertrude and Alice’s apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus eventually became so frequented by admirers of their painting collection that they had to set specific visiting hours for their home-cum-museum so that Gertrude could write without interruption.
The Steins’s collections have been culled for an exhibit that will begin near their childhood home, at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in May of 2011. After it finishes its run at SFMoMA from May 21 to September 6, 2011, “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” will move to the Grand Palais, Paris (October 3, 2011, through January 20, 2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (February 21 through June 3, 2012). This exhibition incorporates new scholarship and highlights the various emphases of the three collections, Leo’s, Gertrude and Alice’s, and Michael and Sarah’s, and provides extensive archival materials documenting the historical importance of the family’s collection, including Michael and Sarah’s introduction of Matisse to American viewers on their move back to the Bay Area in 1935, the same year SFMoMA was founded.