Stein family impact on avant-garde French art on show

Tue Feb 28, 2012 7:57am EST
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Few people have had more influence on the impact of avant-garde art in early 20th century Paris and the careers of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse than the writer and collector Gertrude Stein and her siblings.

In a new exhibition, "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde" which opens at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday and runs through June 3, their patronage and friendships with the emerging artists of their day is chronicled through the works they collected.

"During the first decade of the 20th century arguably the Steins did more than any other collector or dealer to advance the cause of modern art," said Rebecca Rabinow, curator in the museum's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.

"They were among the very few who could appreciate Matisse and Picasso early on when these artists were still relatively unknown."

The bulk of the 200 paintings, sculptures and works on paper featured in the exhibit were once owned by the Steins -- Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael and his wife Sarah. Many hung on the walls of their apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, which is recreated in the exhibition.

One painting, Matisse's "Woman with a Hat" is the centerpiece and inspiration for the show and was owned independently by each of them. It's heirs had stipulated that it can leave its home at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art only once, which was the impetus for the exhibition.

"It was really because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for that picture to travel," Rabinow said about the exhibition which was eight years in the making.

Unlike previous American collectors who were wealthy and purchased works by contemporary artists and took them back to the United States, the Steins were an upper-middle-class Jewish family who lived on income from investments and rental properties in San Francisco.   Continued...

Artist Henri Matisse's painting "Woman with a Hat" is pictured in this handout photo made available to Reuters, February 28, 2012. REUTERS/The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Handout