Vue de salle dans l'expo Gertrude Stein et Pablo Picasso

The genesis of cubism in painting and literature

The Paris Moment and the birth of Cubism

Tableau "trois figures" de Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso Trois Figures sous un arbre, 1907-1908 Huile sur toile, 99 x 99 cm © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau © Succession Picasso 2023

Living in Paris since 1904, the writer Gertrude Stein followed and accompanied the major stages of Cubism with her painter friend Pablo Picasso, acquiring works from each period and at the same time developing her writing according to similar formal approaches.

She witnessed the birth of Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), a masterpiece of Cubism and Modernism that would not be accepted by the art world until thirty years later, while Gertrude Stein immediately acquired a study notebook.

At the same time, Gertrude Stein began her major work The Making of Americans, in which she introduced an innovative literary style.

*Paris moment" is an expression coined by Gertrude Stein.

The progression towards "analytical" cubism

Tableau de Juan Gris
Juan Gris Nature morte au livre, 1913 Huile sur toile © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Bertrand Prévost

In 1909-1910, the Braque-Picasso alliance gave birth to Analytical Cubism, with a series of still lifes with fragmented motifs taken from everyday life.

The young painter Juan Gris joined the movement and produced his first cubist paintings in 1912. These artists sought to present static objects seen from multiple perspectives with a succession of planes and abstract forms.

At the same time, Stein wrote her Word Portraits, inventing a literary form that mirrored this pictorial movement: she did not seek to describe a person, but rather to capture what emanated from him or her by multiplying points of view.

Her writing is dynamic, forging a syntactic and sonorous environment in which a few singular features stand out, in the mode of a litany. She uses repetition, seriality and simple figures such as the circle.

Celui que certains certainement suivaient était celui qui était complètement charmant. Celui que certains certainement suivaient était celui qui était charmant. Celui que certains suivaient était celui qui était complètement charmant. Celui que certains suivaient était celui qui était certainement complètement charmant. 

Gertrude Stein, Portraits and Prayers, Portrait de Picasso en 1909 (Extrait), Random House, 1934

Cubism became "synthetic" and paved the way for modern art

Tableau de Pablo Picasso "Verre, journal et dé"
Pablo Picasso Verre, journal et dé, 1914 Tableau-relief, é́léments de bois et de fer blanc découpé́ peints, fil de fer, sur fond de bois peint à l'huile, 17,4 x 13,5 x 3 cm © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean © Succession Picasso 2023

Before being profoundly affected by war (the First World War, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War), Cubism underwent a further transformation between 1912 and 1914 with the chromatic variations of Fernand Léger and the introduction of collage by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, enthusiastically welcomed by Gertrude Stein.

Couverture Tender Buttons
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, 1914, Claire Marie (New York) © California Digital Library, University of California

It became "synthetic": less concerned with the intellectual representation of process than with the decorative composition of everyday objects through the association - the synthesis - of colours, textures and materials such as newspaper. Similarly, Gertrude Stein continued her research into the object, writing Tendres Buttons (Tender Buttons) in 1914, in which "chop, guitar, umbrella, potato" scroll by.

The present tense is continuous and suspended, the syntax is deconstructed and slow, and the orality of repetition is always present. In his first article on the writer, the art critic and photographer Carl Van Vechten described her as a "literary cubist".

Collage reached its apogee with the work of Henri Matisse. Materials became more robust, sometimes revolutionising sculpture in the manner of Jacques Lipchitz, who considered that voids and solids were endowed with the same artistic value. Two artists whose work you can see in the exhibition at the Museum.


Cubism underpinned the work of Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, and heralded many artistic movements to come: Orphism, Rayonism, Futurism, as well as the Dada movement, Surrealism, Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism.

You can continue your exploration in the exhibition currently on show at the Museum until 28 January 2024!

All Public
From March, 13 to August, 11 2024
Who was Gertrude Stein ?

A portrait in 5 quotes