Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were among the first collectors of works by the Cubists and other experimental painters of the period, such as Pablo Picasso (who painted her portrait), Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque, several of whom became her friends. At her salon they mingled with expatriate American writers, such as Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, and other visitors drawn by her literary reputation. Her literary and artistic judgments were revered, and her chance remarks could make or destroy reputations. In her own work, she attempted to parallel the theories of Cubism, specifically in her concentration on the illumination of the present moment and her use of slightly varied repetitions and extreme simplification and fragmentation. The best explanation of her theory of writing is found in the essay Composition and Explanation, which is based on lectures that she gave at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and was issued as a book in 1926. Among her work that was most thoroughly influenced by Cubism is Tender Buttons (1914), which carries fragmentation and abstraction beyond the borders of intelligibility.

Gertrude’s first taste of fame would come with the publication of “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” in 1933. It became a best seller in America and turned her into an instant celebrity. The Atlantic Monthly did a serialization of the book which got wide readership. Checks began pouring in giving her more money than she had ever known before.

“I love being rich … not as yet so awful rich but with prospects, it makes me all cheery inside…”

Gertrude resisted going to America on a lecture tour since she did not know if she would be well received after 30 years absence, but on October 24, 1934 she and Alice arrived in New York aboard the S.S. Champlain. The crowds were enthusiastic, and the press welcomed her with open arms. The NY Times building announced her arrival in tickertape lights. One headline read: “Gerty Gerty Stein is Back Home Home Back”.

They would cross the nation doing more than 40 appearances, and visit old friends and make new ones along the way … Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Bowles, Sherwood Anderson, Thorton Wilder, Charlie Chaplin, and many more. Commenting on the couple someone remarked, “a large lady firmly dressed in a shirt-waist and skirt and jacket, and a smaller lady in something dark with a gray astrakhan toque … slightly suggestive of a battleship and a cruiser.”

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