by Savannah James


By the turn of the 20th century, Paris was blossoming into the cultural epicenter of the western world. With the rise of modernism came the challenging of traditional ideals of art, an embrace of bohemian culture, and an intellectual and philosophical volley spawned by the shifting of perspective. At the heart of it all, stoking the creative fire for major literary and artistic movements to come, was American writer, art collector, and patron, Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein photographed by Man Ray, 1920

Gertrude was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, to an upper-middle-class Jewish family. From a young age, the Steins moved around the world, providing her with a global education that would serve as the foundation for a life devoted to the arts and cultural intervention. By age seventeen, however, Stein and her siblings were orphaned. She and her brother Leo moved to London and eventually back to Paris in 1903, where they quickly immersed themselves in the burgeoning art community through a joint art collection.


Some of the Stein's Collection:


Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905

                   Paul Cézanne, Portrait of Mme Cézanne, 1881


Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1898-1900

While her brother moved on to live in Florence, Italy, Gertrude remained in Paris, where she hosted weekly salons in her studio at 27 Rue de Fleururs for artists and writers to network and discuss ideas. Notable guests included Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Henri Matisse, among others. It was during the salons that Gertrude would provide creative advice to her guests, as well as exhibiting her growing eclectic art collection.



Stein's home at 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris, 1934, where she would host her legendary salons.


Félix Valloton, Gertrude Stein, 1907

Gertrude Stein posing for Jo Davidson, 1922

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905-6

Gertrude was known for her exuberance and courage, following the rules of nobody but her own. She is one of the first women in history to write about being openly gay and embracing it through her life’s work. She published a handful of books and essays inspired by her romantic endeavors, the most famous being the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, a book about her lover and life-long partner. She is also known for her stream-of-consciousness works, often lyrical and collage-like, meant to “evoke the exciting essence of pure being.”


"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose"

- Gertrude Stein



Gertrude, her partner Alice B. Toklas, and their poodle, Basket. Photographed for LIFE Magazine.


Gertrude died on July 27, 1946, of stomach cancer. She died already having become a celebrity and worldwide cultural icon. She is still celebrated today for her insurmountable contribution to the history of art and the LGBTQ community, the result of a smart, curious woman simply being her honest self.


Savannah James is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY

Find her: @jamvvvs and unnecessary musings





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