Who wouldn’t have loved to be in Paris in the early 1920s, in Gertrude Stein’s lively drawing room lined with paintings -just as Woody Allen imagined it in “Midnight in Paris”? Stein and Picasso became close friends in 1905. The famous portrait of Gertrude, done after an enormous number of sittings (80, the model claimed), renforced their bond. Attracted to the solemn virility of Gertrude, Pablo sweated blood and tears working on the face throught the entire winter of 1905, only to wipe it off in the spring of 1906. In the fall, he transformed it into a simplistic mask, with a bulging forehead and blank eyes, a first archaic effigy of his African period.
After this striking portrait, Stein acquired more and more daring work from Picasso. It was too much for her brother, Leo, even through he was one of the Spaniard’s leading collectors; he outright refused Picasso’s Cubism and his sister’s hermetic writing. He left the apartment on Rue de Fleurus in 1913.
With the Steins, it was the men who bought art but the women who collected it. The same scenario was repeated with the Michael Stein couple, this time with Matisse. Michael was the eldest son,, who managed the family’s affairs remarkably, enabling his four brothers and sisters to live from their private income. Following the Fauvist scandal at the 1905 Salon d’automne, he was the second -after his brother Leo- to dare to buy Matisse’s works; he close the astonishing “Madame Matisse, the Green Line”. But it was his wife, Sarah, who truly supported Matisse’s art. Every Saturday, she held a salon on Rue Madame, where the painter was “explained” to baffled visitors. In thanks, Matisse painted a portrait of his friend and patron, a portrait of Sarah Stein in the guise of an icon.
Without the clairvoyance of the eccentric Steins, the face of modern art would been something altogether different. In Gertrude’s words: “Paris was the place that suited those of us that were to create the 20th-century art”.