Works in Progress - Spring 2009

A Stein Is a Stein Is a Stein

By Elyse Graham | October 9, 2013


From aspiring Gibson girl to Left Bank intellectual to stony neoclassical figure, Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) consciously reshaped her public image. The way she cultivated relationships with visual artists to project those changing identities is the focus of an exhi- bition that art historian Wanda Corn is preparing.

“I want this Stein to be the Stein Americans know least well,” says Corn, professor emerita of art history at Stanford. “They know her as a collector of great artists (Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Braque), as a famous expatriate, as a writer whose prose is hard to get through. What I don’t think they know is the [post–World War I] Stein who starts supporting younger artists and Americans, whose sexuality becomes an important part of her public personality, a writer who collaborates with artists of different types.”

During the “Emperor” phase, as Corn wryly refers to Stein’s postwar persona, portraitists placed growing focus on Stein as a Greek sculpture—monumental and unsmiling. Corn interprets this as acknowledgment that her relation to visual modernists had become that of a patrician, not only a patron but an exemplar of aesthetic virtues that made her a reigning figure within their own movement.

“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” is scheduled to open in 2011 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

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