Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania in 1874, into a wealthy Jewish family. She was the youngest of five children and grew up in California. When she was 14 years old her mother died, and her brothers Michael and Leo became her guardians.
It was disappointment in love that led her to leave her home environment, at the age of 30. She decided to follow Leo in his travels: she joined him in Paris, the capital of the arts, bringing renown to the rue de Fleurus – a street not far from the Musée du Luxembourg!
"A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears."
When Gertrude Stein arrived in Paris, a true aesthete, she set out to conquer... modern art! She was just as interested in painting as she was in writing, convinced that the two art forms fuelled and complemented each other.
A warm, sociable and tactful character, she very soon became part of the art scene of the time. She met many artists, including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pable Picasso, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Francis Picabia and Jean Cocteau. Together with her brother, she became an art collector and even the first patron of Pablo Picasso!
This environment stimulated and inspired her work as a writer and poet. She began to engage more deeply with her writing, in her mother tongue, adopting a style which was a real innovation for the time. She wrote Three Lives in 1909 whilst contemplating Cézanne’s painting (Madame Cézanne à l’éventail 1878 – 1888), interweaving thoughts on texture and density in her writing.
"A rose is a rose is a rose"
In a spirit of boundless freedom, she reinvented…language. What is it that makes her writing so unique? The way in which she drew inspiration from the aesthetic, the slow pace or the sensuality of the painting, but also from the fast, fleeting, repetitive nature of all that is cerebral and psychological.
And as for the reason why: it reflects the direction of her studies in the United States, in medicine and philosophy. Her writing is rhythmical and full-bodied, both sensual and intellectual.
"That’s what you all are… All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation."
Gertrude Stein received many artists in her salon following the First World War, and it was she who suggested these words to Ernest Hemingway. He used them in the epigraph to his novel The Sun also Rises, 1926. It was the start of a broad artistic movement that sought to invent new values and a new artistic language through which they could be expressed.
"Disillusion in living is finding that no one can really ever be agreeing with you completely on anything."
Often described as the grandmother of modernism, Gertrude Stein led an emancipated life in Paris, very much in the present. Her aesthetic and her literary style are firmly avant-garde.
New, experimental, breaking the classical codes, her style was surprising and discordant, and at the same time a source of inspiration for the artistic world of the 1920s.
She became a famous figure, photographed and painted, by Man Ray, Cecil Beaton and Pablo Picasso, to mention but a few. It was with Pablo Picasso in particular that she forged an exceptional artistic collaboration…