Tuesday, May 31, 2011

For Sale: The Most Beautiful House in San Francisco

It has been whispered that Larry Ellison, Oracle founder, made an offer that was not refused.

We hear $40 million. That's a lot of hardware, and software. Pre-emptive strike?

Broadway is buzzing with gossip. We stay away from hornets' nests.

Now it’s whispered that Larry did not buy it — and that the asking price might be $45 million, or is it $25 million?

San Francisco Realtor Malin Giddings, so professional and so very discreet and elegant, is not talking. 

If you have a spare $45 million and would love to move to the best location in San Francisco (adjacent to Larry Ellison, as it happens, and with the best view of yachts on the bay)...check in with her at www.sfproperties.com

Though the Rosekrans house is not strictly listed yet, it has created lots of interest and hardly a moment goes past without someone telling me 'Mr.Gotrocks has made an offer' or 'Miss Heiresstobillions is desperate to get it' or 'Mrs Sochicithurts is on the prowl'. 

In one ear and out the other!

The decor of the living room is exactly as Michael Taylor designed it in the ’70s. Taylor selected the large-scale 18th century William Kent chairs, which were upholstered in chartreuse silk-velvet.

Let’s take one last look at Dodie’s Spanish-inspired house, once the residence of the Archbishop of San Francisco. Oh, the stories these walls could tell. 

Now the major paintings have been sold at Sotheby’s. The Picasso above the mantel went for $12 million, it seems. And the jewelry and furniture and antiques will be sold at Sotheby’s later this year.

Let’s enjoy these beautiful lost interiors one last time. 

On opening nights at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at diamond-dazzled Paris Opera galas, masked balls in Venice, or the big bash to honor Yves Saint Laurent at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, there was one exotic and glamorous woman who was always the center of attention.

San Francisco arts patron Dodie Rosekrans, formerly a grande dame on the world stage, spent much of her life bewitching an international coterie of social lions, art lovers and fashion fanatics, principessas, dukes, couturiers and their courtiers .

Dodie (more formally Mrs John. N. Rosekrans Jnr), always attracted paparazzi at parties in her Jean-Paul Gaultier ‘Firebird’ feathered jacket, her Galliano couture gowns, and most recently her edgy Yamamoto coats, her Comme des Garcons skirts and her Rick Owens leather jackets, all worn with her unmistakable stamp of the avant-garde.

Dodie used to divide her year, carefully following the art, social and fashion calendars, between her mansion in San Francisco (fall and Christmas), her chic jewel-like apartment in Paris, (spring), and her theatrical grand palazzo in Venice (summer until early September when she watched the Venice Regatta from her Grand Canal palazzo balcony).

“Top designers—Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Junya Watanabe, Rick Owens, Yves Saint Laurent, Kaisik Wong, Karl Lagerfeld—are all artists and I admire their creativity, originality, and avant-garde sense of style,” said Rosekrans, in a private interview at her Pacific Heights house.

She was born in San Francisco and attended a private girls’ school in Pacific Heights.

“I didn’t set out to be original. I wear what appeals to me. It happens that many of the fashion designers, like Galliano and Gaultier, are friends of mine and I like to celebrate their joyful work and enjoy sense of style,” Rosekrans told me.

Her closets and crammed attic were filled with decades of couture gowns, resplendent kaftans, shimmering embroidered jackets and fur coats, any of which could hold pride of place in a museum costume collections. Now many museum curators have snapped up her best ensembles, so eventually we will see the Gaultiers and early Gallianos and her Thea Porter gowns and early Versace and Kaisik Wong’s dramatic one-of-a-kind jackets. Swoon!

The ardent fashion aficionado was also a generous, life-long, arts supporter, benefiting the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Save Venice (savevenice.org), as well as arts organizations and cultural activities around the world.

Dodie grew up in San Francisco in the twenties and thirites. She enjoyed a gilded family life in Pacific Heights, just a hop and a skip from her present residence. Her father, Michael A. Naify, and his brother, originally from Lebanon, built a theater chain at a time when cinemas in California were palatial. It was later sold to United Artists.

Dodie’s Francophile mother traveled to the Paris couture. Her young daughter was obsessed with art, fashion, style, creativity and fine craftsmanship as a teenager and sought out galleries and artists.

Dodie, like many young California girls of that time,was sent to finishing school in Switzerland. “They taught comportment for young ladies, how to hold a knife and good manners, but I would not call it an education,” recalls Dodie. “In those days, girls didn’t work, so that eliminated a whole world of interesting things I would have loved to explore.”

Dodie arriving for a ball at the Fairmont Hotel in the sixties.

She soon set out to correct that, studying art, visiting museums and making a point of meeting leading artists of the day.

Rosekrans, a lifelong autodidact, would eventually become a patron of young artists and university art programs, and was an honorary trustee for the prestigious Centre Pompidou Foundation in Paris, among many other posts. Her collections were scattered at her residences in Paris, Venice, Runnymede Farm in Woodside and San Francisco. Her taste is for quality and runs from Picasso and Parmigianino to Egon Schiele.

She recently caused a flutter in the art world by buying Tom Sachs’ provocative Chanel Guillotine/Breakfast Nook, a large counterweighted blade positioned above leather-upholstered swinging tools adorned with interlocking C’s.

This was a woman who could admire and appreciate gritty guillotines-as-art—and she displayed it in the opulence of her gilded and antique-filled 18th century Venetian palazzo, which was decorated by Tony Duquette and Hutton Wilkinson.

In 1960, Dodie married her second husband, the late John N. Rosekrans Jnr, the grandson of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, the legendary wife of a sugar baron. De Bretteville Spreckels, one of the great San Francisco philanthropists of the 20th century, and donated the elegant California Palace of the Legion of Honor overlooking San Francisco Bay to the City.

John Rosekrans made another fortune as a business partner with his boyhood friend, John Bowes, marketing iconic sporting products including the Morey Boogie Board, Frisbee and Hula Hoop.

It was Rosekrans who encouraged his wife to buy couture, and their photo albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s are chock-a-block with party pictures of Dodie in Paris, wearing Balenciaga and Givenchy, and in San Francisco in Dior and Yves Saint Laurent in diamond parures and over-the-top strings of baroque pearls, emeralds and rubies. But here, too, Rosekrans showed her rebellious streak by also wearing African tribal jewelry, chunky antique Tibetan coral and turquoise necklaces, along with dramatically overscale Tony Duquette necklaces, strands of baroque Tahitian pearls the size of golf balls, along with walnut-sized emeralds and rubies like those in the treasure troves of the great Nawabs and Maharajahs of India. Sometimes, ornately dressed for a ball, she appeared to be wearing them all at once—a thrilling sight.

“I never set out to be dramatic,” said Rosekrans. “I look through my closets and jewelry cases and wear what appeals to me that day.’

In 1979, the Rosekranses acquired one of the most beautiful residences in San Francisco. Built in 1916 by architect Willis Polk, its atrium, with ornate stonework and columns, was copied from a Spanish Renaissance palace, the Casa de Zaporta in Saragossa. The couple hired San Francisco designer Michael Taylor to design the interiors.

Taylor created one of his most elegant and enduring interiors in California, with elaborate pilaster walls painted a soft gray, s parquet floors stained dark walnut. Taylor brought in eight bold and gutsy gilded Georgian chairs, a towering 12-panel Chinese Coromandel screen, and a pair of curvy sofas in a style favored by Elsa Schiaparelli.

Among Rosekrans’s collections are Greek antiquities and rare second-century BC Roman glass.

Lavish silk burlap upholstery, rich chartreuse cut silk velvet on the gilt chairs, and a series of majestic Chinese lacquered tables inset with mother-of-pearl, contrast with rough 4-foot tall Brazilian quartz crystals, massive geodes, tall African carved birds, and chunky Chinese jade collections.

“I have not changed a thing since Michael completed it,” recalled Rosekrans, dressed in Yamamoto, reclining in her study on an 18th century gilded French chaise longue. “He was a genius. I would not dream of altering his design. I’m very happy here.”

Michael Taylor included the complexity and richness of a 17th-century twelve-panel Coromandel screen, a perfect counterpoint to the elaborate pilasters and architectural details.
Rosekrans had a life-long love affair with art, and she enjoyed contemporary paintings and sculpture in her historic residence in San Francisco, in her Paris apartment, and the Venice palazzo. All of the carved stone fireplaces, moldings and architecture are original to the 1916 residence.

The 90-inch, round, travertine-topped dining table is a Taylor design. Antique chairs are from an English country house. The crystal-drop chandelier originally graced Maria Callas’ Paris apartment.

From her terrace, Dodie enjoys an expansive view of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, as well as, at left, the dome of Bernard Maybeck’s baroque Palace of Fine Arts, 1915. The gilded chairs are Russian.

The smoking room is the purest expression of Michael Taylor’s design, with its walls arrayed in grass cloth, a stash of immense Brazilian amethyst crystals, and a pair of carved Senufo birds. The twig wall sculpture is by Charles Arnoldi, a Taylor favorite.

It is said that when the original Spanish Renaissance palace that inspired the Rosekrans house was damaged in the Spanish Civil War, envoys came to San Francisco to study it and restore the palace precisely. Fantail palms were a Michael Taylor favorite.

Dodie Rosekrans’ San Francisco residence is a replica of a Renaissance palace in Saragossa, Spain. Sculptor Leo Lentelli executed the ornate, carved stonework in the atrium, depicting frolicking cherubim, Bacchus, knights and monks.


All images of the Rosekrans residence here by Lisa Romerein, used with express permission.

To contact the Realtor:

Malin Giddings, SF Properties
TRI Coldwell Banker

Monday, May 23, 2011

Oh for an Odalisque

Artist I love: Henri Matisse 

I’ve always adored the playful and sexy works Matisse created in studios in his apartment and his villa near Nice. 

Matisse dreamed up his own world of costumed odalisques, silken textiles, fulminating flowers and coruscating light and I want to be a part of it. 

I’ve encountered his works at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in New York and London, and in Nice, and I’m always struck by his single-minded focus on observing, recording, and always inciting emotion in the viewer. 

Sensual and inventive, his works are often reveries of beautiful models (often nude) in the exotic settings Matisse created in his sun-struck studios. 

Matisse also had a reflective side to his work as he worked on compositions and tested new ways of depicting his joie de vivre and the pure pleasure of painting. He could dash off a drawing or quickly sketch his beautiful model posing in a room of sublime style and grace.

Now, in a new exhibit in the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, we can take a new look at a series of charmingly intimate images by Matisse, and rediscover his genius and brilliance. 

Included in the exclusive new exhibit, ‘Henri Matisse, Drawings and Prints, 1915-1947, which runs through July 30, are several works from the private collection of the Pierre Matisse family. They demonstrate his lifelong fascinating with the figure, pattern, and decoration.

“Matisse considered his drawings to be a very private and personal means of expression,” noted Gretchen Berggruen. “Often his drawings were made to inform or initiate his paintings and sculptures. They are beautifully rendered gestural exercises to capture form and emotion.” 

Among the forty examples of Matisse’s work in the show are his iconic ‘Odalisque debout au plateau de fruits’, 1924, a lithograph printed on Japan paper, as well as  ‘Marie-José en Robe Jaune’, 1950, an aquatint printed in colors on Arches woven paper; ‘La robe d'organdi’, 1922, a lithograph printed on China paper, along with ‘Nu assis et portrait de Madame Cézanne’, 1929, an etching printed on chine appliqué. 

This new exhibition of Henri Matisse’s drawings, etchings, lithographs and sketches show the artist’s mastery of all the techniques in his repertoire. It’s a quieter Matisse. That is, until we encounter his newly invented pochoirs, the vivid and vibrant prints and collages in the 'Jazz' series. 

Come for a private visit to this new show of Henry Matisse and see works from private collections and one-of-a-kind pieces rarely seen. 

Included are rare charcoal drawings, a bold brush and ink image, as well as expressive pieces in crayon, aquatints, many lithographs in small editions, and several pen and ink quick sketches. 

Matisse said, ‘It’s about learning and re-learning the writing of lines.” 

Most of the pieces at the Berggruen gallery are for sale (prices range from $7,000 for a ‘Jazz’ pochoir, to $650,000 for the singular and very rare ‘Vase of Ivy’ in charcoal). Some of the drawings and prints are from private collections and are on view here for the first time. Most are from very small editions. 

Best of all, they feature Matisse’s favorite odalisques, inspired by his travels in Morocco. Each model is posed in costume and framed by a beautifully composed ‘set’ of Matisse’s collection of textiles, his woven carpets, bowls of fruit, garden flowers in his antique vases, and an air of timeless bliss. 

The Jazz series (I hope you have the dramatic book in which they were collected) resulted from Matisse’s love affair with collage when he was confined to bed with his fatal illness (cancer) in the last years of his life. 

The colors are pure joy, and each image is almost kinetic with the vibrations of purple, indigo blue, chrome yellow, magenta and bold red, with the occasional scroll of his writing. 

I hope you’ll visit the show in the next few weeks. 

You can wander alone through the silent gallery, if you’re lucky, and ponder and gaze and approach each picture in your own way. 

I like to spend time, inspecting the frame, the texture of the paper (Matisse used many kinds of specialized papers), and then admiring his imagery and his technique. 

While the lithographs are bold and meticulously crafted, the pen and ink drawings and his pencil on paper sketches are free, deft, and seemingly impromptu. 

It’s the brilliance musings of the master you’ll encounter if you stand still for a few moments. How lovely. I want all of them. Such a pleasure. 

Thank you, Gretchen Berrgruen for curating and dreaming up this enchanting museum-quality exhibition.

John Berggruen Gallery
Having celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, the John Berggruen Gallery has remained true to its origins. The gallery opened its doors in May 1970 as one of the first contemporary art galleries in Northern California. 

The gallery at first specialized in European prints and presented exhibitions of Miro, Giacometti, Picasso, Calder and Matisse. In the mid-1970s the emphasis shifted and expanded to American artists, such as Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella, exhibiting not only prints but paintings and drawings as well. 

Over the years, the gallery has developed strong ties to the New York School in addition to focusing on prominent Bay Area artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Nathan Oliveira, Christopher Brown and Wayne Thiebaud. Also exhibited were sculptors such as Mark di Suvero, Barry Flanagan, George Rickey and Joel Shapiro. 

John Berggruen Gallery continues a program of historical exhibitions and shows of well-established artists such as Picasso, Matisse and O’Keeffe. This is documented by the catalogues the John Berggruen Gallery has published. 

John Berggruen Gallery has participated in many international art fairs over the years including FIAC, the Tokyo Art Fair, Art Chicago, the Art Show (ADAA), and Art Basel/Miami Beach. John Berggruen Gallery is a long-standing member of the Art Dealers Association of America and San Francisco Art Dealers Association. 

Currently, John Berggruen Gallery continues to specialize in the sale and exhibition of 20th Century American and European paintings, drawings and sculpture.

John Berggruen Gallery 
228 Grant Avenue 
San Francisco, CA 94108 
tel: 415.781.4629 

Henri Matisse: Drawings and Prints 
May 17-July 30, 2011

All images here courtesy of John Berggruen Gallery, used with express permission.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gertrude Galore

Gertrude Stein and her avid art-collecting brothers (and Alice) are the fascinating focus of two outstanding museum art exhibits opening here exclusively this week at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Each exhibit vividly illustrates and illuminates Gertrude Stein’s Paris salons, the Stein family’s art collections, their enviable friendships with artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Cezanne, and their essential role in popularizing important and trend-setting new art works.

Portrayed in photography and oil paintings, drawings and sketches are Stein’s apartment and the vital early days of modern art.

The walls of 27, rue de Fleurus (scene of many a Paris pilgrimage) are crammed with museum-quality masterpieces. Forget Jean Cocteau! Gertrude Stein is clearly the most ‘portraited’ writer of the twentieth century.

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905–06; oil on canvas; 39 3/8 x 32 in. (100 x 81.3 cm); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946; © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Viewers become aware of the value of Gertrude’s ceaseless curiosity, as she throws herself into creative endeavors including poetry, ballets, music composition, cooking, and travel, with Alice B. Toklas at her side (and often toiling in the shadows.)

The enigmatic legacy of Stein’s writing is revealed. Stein’s is often called ‘the most famous writer whose work is never read’. (I plead guilty. I tried. Repetitive. Instant headache.)

Come and meet the Steins. The shows are highly original—and certain provocative.

Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, 1922; photo: Man Ray; private collection, San Francisco; © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Come and encounter Gertrude Stein, the Freres Stein, inspiring apartments, favorite artists, and of course, bien sur, Alice B. Toklas.

I think there is ‘there’ there, and more.

I suggest for most fun: find your long-neglected paperback copy of ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book’ by Gertrude Stein. Open the pages for the recipe for her famous spicy Hashish Brownies. Have a little baking session, then sit down to nibble…and read about the inspiring Stein family, and especially try to solve the enigma of Gertrude Stein.

Bachrach Studio, Gertrude Stein, c. 1903, Photograph drymounted on board. Courtesy of the Therese Erhman Papers, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

As a young girl, Gertrude Stein, born in Pennsylvania, moved to Vienna, Paris, and finally San Francisco and Oakland.

Stein (1874-1946) famously said of Oakland, where she grew up, ‘There is no there, there’.

But it was in Paris, at the turn of the century, that she encountered Matisse, Picasso, and Cezanne, Later—who knew—Stein was a patron of couturier, Pierre Balmain.

Horst P. Horst, Gertrude Stein Wearing Balmain Suit, 1946, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Horst P. Horst Estate, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Horst P. Horst, Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show, 1946, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Horst P. Horst Estate, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

With rarely seen paintings, sculpture and photography, each exhibit celebrates Gertrude Stein’s extraordinary life and art collections, along with her Paris salon, family, and patronage of artists like Matisse and Picasso, who painted her portrait, and every leading photographer of the 20th century.

Pablo Picasso, Lady with a Fan, 1905; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman; © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

At San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:
‘The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde’

May 21 - September 06, 2011

The sole West Coast Venue. This new exhibit premieres on May 21 in San Francisco and travels to Paris and New York in 2011–2012.

New research and archival material capture the lasting and indelible impact of the Stein family patronage.

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905; oil on canvas; 31 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (80.7 x 59.7 cm); SFMOMA, Bequest of Elise S. Haas; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ben Blackwell

From the moment they first dared to admire Matisse's scandalous Woman with a Hat (1905)—the "nasty smear of paint"1 that gave the Fauves their name—the foursome were staking claims for modern art that would heavily influence their peers and transform the careers of several of the most important artists of the century.

Powerful and opinionated (and generous) tastemakers, they arrived in Paris from California and had a commitment to the new, a confidence in their inclinations, and a drive to build appreciation for the work they loved.

‘The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde’ reunites the modern art collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael's wife, Sarah Stein.

Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris, this touring exhibition gathers approximately 200 iconic paintings.

Henri Matisse, Tea, 1919; oil on canvas; 55 1/4 x 83 1/4 in. (140.3 x 211.3 cm); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, bequest of David L. Loew in memory of his father, Marcus Loew; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: © 2001 Museum Associates / LACMA / Art Resource, NY

There are also sculptures, drawings, prints, and illustrated books by Matisse and Picasso, who are each represented by dozens of works, but also by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Henri Manguin, Francis Picabia, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Félix Vallotton, among others.

"The Stein family legacy is proof that individual collectors make a huge impact on art history," said SFMOMA director Neal Benezra. "I can't imagine a more timely and inspiring reminder that when it comes to collecting the art of our time, it's the appetite for risk and intellectual engagement with living artists that brings about the most important and lasting outcomes."

Henri Matisse, Sarah Stein, 1916; oil on canvas; 28 1/2 x 22 1/4 in. (72.4 x 56.5 cm); SFMOMA, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Elise S. Haas; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ben Blackwell

"It's really impossible to overestimate the role of this eccentric American family as patrons of visual art in early 20th-century Paris," says co-curator Janet Bishop of SFMOMA.

"The Steins were true champions of modernism. They embraced new art as it was first being made and before it was met with widespread acceptance. They avidly collected works when the artists most needed support, but also enthusiastically opened their modest Left Bank homes to anyone wishing to see the most radical art of the day." 

As American expatriates living in France, the four Steins were pivotal in shaping the city's vibrant cultural life. They traveled to Paris along with millions of tourists to visit the 1900 World's Fair and then relocated to the city in 1902 and 1903 Gertrude and Leo lived modestly off family investments and had to team up to afford their early purchases.

"You can either buy clothes or buy pictures. It's that simple. No one who is not very rich can do both," was Gertrude's legendary quote from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.

Along the way, the Steins covered their studio walls with cutting-edge paintings by the most controversial artists of the day and were soon overwhelmed with requests to see the collections. Anyone with a proper referral was welcome to strain their eyes to see the works by candlelight, as neither apartment was wired with electricity yet.

Henri Matisse, Michael Stein, 1916; oil on canvas; 26 1/2 x 19 7/8 in. (67.3 x 50.5 cm); SFMOMA, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Nathan Cummings; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo: Ben Blackwell

Gertrude Stein at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

On May 12, the Contemporary Jewish Museum debuted the first major museum exhibition to investigate the fascinating and surprising visual legacy and life of Gertrude Stein.

‘Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories’ is an art-filled biographical exploration of Stein’s identities as a literary pioneer, transatlantic modernist, Jewish-American expatriate, American celebrity, art collector, and muse to artists of several generations.

The exhibition also features Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967), Stein’s life-long partner, and explores the aesthetics of dress, home décor, entertainment, and food that the two women created together.

Henri Manuel, Gertrude Stein, 1924, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Staley-Wise Gallery, New York, © Henri Manuel / Courtesy Staley-Wise Gallery, New York, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Carl Van Vechten, Gertrude Stein with American Flag, 1935, gelatin silver print on board. Courtesy of the Rare Books and Special Collections, Boatwright Memorial Library, The University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, Carl Van Vechten-Mark Lutz Collection, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

‘Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories’ is built upon new scholarship by lead guest curator Professor Wanda M. Corn of Stanford University and associate curator Professor Tirza True Latimer of the California College of Arts and is jointly organized with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

“This exhibition offers a fascinating, new look at one of the most influential Jewish women of the twentieth century whose reach across the arts continues today,” says Connie Wolf, Director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum. “We are delighted to present this exhibition that draws on exciting new research and scholarship by our guest curators, who have uncovered and examined the many sides of Stein.”

Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1874 and raised in Oakland, California in an upper middle-class Jewish family, Stein left America for France in 1903 at the age of 29. Like James McNeill Whistler and Henry James, her American predecessors, Stein became an expatriate, living in France until her death in 1946. From 1908 onwards, Stein lived openly with Toklas.

Stein was a cultural matchmaker, bringing creative people and friends together—such as Picasso, Matisse and Hemingway, but also a lively band of cosmopolitan gay and lesbian cultrate—at her legendary private salons.

Stein was always an avant-garde inventor of modernist literature. Although she could be ‘the most famous author no-one has read’ she wrote novels, journal essays, literary and art theory, opera libretti, plays, along with ‘The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas’ in which that Hashish Brownies recipe (Delicious? You tell me.) resides.

Carl Van Vechten, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Departing Newark Airport with Zuni Fetishes, November 7, 1934, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Rare Books and Special Collections, Boatwright Memorial Library, The University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, Carl Van Vechten-Mark Lutz Collection, Courtesy of the Carl Van Vechten Trust, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum 

‘Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories’ features more than 100 artifacts and art works by artists from Europe and the United States. It includes paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and artist’s gifts to Stein, as well as items from her custom-designed wardrobe, manuscripts, books, periodicals, letters, journals, and personal belongings.

Cecil Beaton, Gertrude Stein 1935, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's [CM3794], Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Multi-media presentations offer a fascinating picture of this complex icon. One loop is a montage of photographs from throughout her life; another features footage from her operas and ballet; and one examines Stein’s life during the war. An interactive, custom-made iPad app allows visitors the opportunity to explore images, press, and other material from Stein’s lecture tour across America in 1934-35. On another iPad app, visitors can listen to Stein reading from her work while following along with the text.

This wealth of archival and artistic material illuminates Stein through five distinct stories that offer multiple ways of looking at or “seeing” Stein. These five chapters focus on Stein from 1915-46 when she became recognized as a major writer, collected the works of the neo-romantics, and formed a new international circle of young friends.

Stein’s archives include letters, journals, newspaper clippings, but also invoices from the couturier Pierre Balmain, handmade gifts from Picasso, snapshots, fashions, jewelry.

Marsden Hartley, One Portrait of One Woman, 1916, oil on composition board. Courtesy of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Bequest of Hudson D. Walker from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Picturing Gertrude
The first story presents portraits of Stein from her childhood to maturity and includes works by Felix Vallotton, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Carl Van Vechten, Jacques Lipchitz, Jo Davidson and others.

Domestic Stein
This ‘chapter’ delves into the relationship of Gertrude Stein and her lifelong partner Alice B. Toklas. Together they shaped an eccentric visual aesthetic as a couple through their home décor, food, and dress. 

The Art of Friendship
The wide circle of visual artists Stein and Toklas befriended included after World War I, an emerging international set of younger male artists, writers, and composers. While achieving her own fame, Stein had the talent and instincts to champion others such as Carl Van Vechten, Pavel Tchelitchew, Cecil Beaton, and Francis Rose.

Celebrity Stein
In 1934-35, Stein toured the United States for seven months of public lectures. It was Stein’s first visit in 30 years and Toklas accompanied her. From the moment the women arrived in New York harbor, the American press followed them every step of the way.

Cecil Beaton, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in wallpapered room, 1938, modern print from original negative. Courtesy of Cecil Beaton Archives, Sotheby’s, London, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

Cecil Beaton, Sir Francis Rose and Gertrude Stein, Bilignin, 1939, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

George Platt Lynes, Gertrude Stein, Bilignin, 1931, toned gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection, Gift of Adelyn D. Breeskin BMA 1985.3, © Estate of George Platt Lynes, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum exhibition will be later be presented at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. after its premiere at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and will be on view there from October 14, 2011 through January 22, 2012.

'Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories' is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum during the same time period as the exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from May 21 through September 6, 2011.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibit will later travel to the Grand Palais in Paris (where many of Matisse’s first paintings were first shown, almost one hundred years ago.)

Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission Street, San Francisco
phone 415-655-7800

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street, San Francisco
phone 415-357-4000

Photography and art: All photography and paintings shown here are used with express permission from The Contemporary Jewish Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.