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24.7.03

Gertrude Stein

Actually, what Duncan Phillips did in Washington in the 1920s (see preceding post) is what Gertrude Stein had been doing in Paris for the two decades prior. Interestingly, Stein's life and works are a hot topic this summer. For example, Janet Malcolm's article in The New Yorker (June 6, 2003) dealt with Stein's life in WWII France and how, as an avant-garde writer and a woman of Jewish descent, she managed to escape deportation. Matt Dellinger has also put together a guide to online materials about Gertrude Stein. The apartment where Stein lived with her companion, Alice Toklas, at 27, rue de Fleurus was never really opened to the public in the way the Phillips family opened their house. Even so, a lot of people viewed modern art in Paris in Stein's atelier when there was no other place for it to be shown.

I must be hardwired into the Zeitgeist because this spring I finally got around to reading the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, which is actually by Gertrude Stein and principally about Gertrude Stein. This is a fascinating book, but I was reminded by Janet Malcolm's article that it is not necessarily a "historical" book, since Stein's approach and style can hardly be called objective. In addition to a lot of talk about Picasso and Matisse and other artists and writers she knew, Stein does mention meeting Marsden Hartley, who came to Europe in 1912 after two successful shows at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291. He fell in with a group of German artists in Paris and eventually went to Berlin, where he met Kandinsky. World War I drove him back to the United States, where he was one of the first painters to bring the abstract style and the bright color approach of Kandinsky here. An excellent selection of these colorful and primitive-style paintings are in the Phillips show.

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