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Meet the Collectors: The Stein Family

Gertrude Stein Pablo Picasso
In the beginnings of the 20th century, an American family gravitated to the center of the artistic movement in Paris, France. Though these individuals were not the usual “masters” of art that impacted the artistic world previously, these famous siblings did more for avant-garde Paris than perhaps even Pablo Picasso himself.

Upon first arriving in Paris, the Stein siblings, Leo, Gertrude, and Michael–along with his wife Sarah–were furious collectors and enthusiastic admirers of the aesthetic, purchasing anything they could afford. What they could afford at first, however, were unusual, modern oil paintings created by unknown artists with names such as Henri Matisse and Picasso. Attracted to such works of absolute color, Leo quickly acquired these paintings with his siblings following suit. Together, the siblings built an impressive collection of art to make even the Louvre jealous, and word had spread all over Paris. Yet, the siblings’ approach to artistic acquisition and collection was of a more untraditional one compared to the classic Paris museums. Leo, Gertrude, and Michael all had close friendships with the artists whose works hung boastfully on the walls of the siblings’ apartments, especially Matisse and Picasso, and were strong supporters of their new talented friends. Overwhelmed with requests to see the family’s apartments, the siblings decided to open their precious collection to the world and only to those who brought with them references upon entering. They came from Europe, from Russia and across the ocean from America to see what treasures lay hidden in Leo and Michael’s apartment. Discussion, debates, and kind friendly banter from groups of artists and guests echoed throughout the Stein apartments, transforming it into the popular salons and cafés of Paris where artistic people convened. These visitors took with them the names of Paris’ evolving avant-garde.

Lovers of art, or more appropriately, visionaries able to see the talent in what some might dismiss as the obscure, the Stein siblings literally introduced the world to avant-garde, and Paris has never been the same. Paying tribute to the Stein siblings and their appreciation for art, along with the undeniable impact they had to the artistic community, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is displaying what is left of the Stein collection. The exhibition The Steins Collect runs through June 3. — Nicole Ellul
image: Portrait of Gertrude Stein, by Pablo Picasso, 1906

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