Visu­al Arts

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

Janet Bish­op, Cécile Debray, and Rebec­ca Rabi­now, eds.
  • Review
By – March 22, 2012

In the fall of 1903, Gertrude Stein and Leo Stein, an old­er broth­er, took an apart­ment togeth­er at 27, rue de Fleu­rus, in Paris. The fol­low­ing Jan­u­ary, Michael Stein, anoth­er old­er broth­er, and Sarah, his wife, took an apart­ment near­by. Thus begins the sto­ry of the Steins’ col­lect­ing of avant-garde paint­ing and their tow­er­ing influ­ence on the art of the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

In eleven essays by lead­ing schol­ars, The Steins Col­lect, which accom­pa­nies a major exhi­bi­tion in Paris, San Fran­cis­co, and New York, exam­ines the con­tri­bu­tions and advo­ca­cy of the Stein fam­i­ly, dis­cussing each member’s role. Leo was an ear­ly admir­er of Cézanne; Gertrude’s friend­ship with Picas­so was instru­men­tal in launch­ing his career; Michael and Sarah were cham­pi­ons of Matisse, with whom they had a long and close friend­ship even after their return to the Unit­ed States. But this sug­gests only a por­tion of the Steins’ place in ear­ly twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry cul­ture. They were deeply inter­est­ed in all the arts; indi­vid­u­al­ly they left their mark on pho­tog­ra­phy, archi­tec­ture, art crit­i­cism, and lit­er­a­ture.

Each of the essays is fol­lowed by repro­duc­tions of the art asso­ci­at­ed with the sub­ject of the essay, mak­ing up a lit­tle over half the book. The remain­der doc­u­ments the place of the Steins in cul­tur­al his­to­ry — archival fam­i­ly pho­tographs as well as archival pho­tographs of their homes with art­work in place; Sarah’s note­books record­ing Matisse’s com­ments to his stu­dents at the acad­e­my she and Michael helped estab­lish for him; a cat­a­logue of the Stein col­lec­tions; a chronol­o­gy of their lives; plus schol­ar­ly adden­da. It should be not­ed that the book deals only with the cul­tur­al side of the Steins’ lives and does not dis­cuss, except in pass­ing, their per­son­al or polit­i­cal lives. Above all, The Steins Col­lect is a mas­sive book of mag­nif­i­cent art, beau­ti­ful­ly print­ed on excep­tion­al­ly fine paper in a some­what larg­er than usu­al for­mat. It can be enjoyed for that alone. Col­or cat­a­logue plus almost 500 plates, both full-col­or art and archival pho­tog­ra­phy; chronol­o­gy; index; references.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

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