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9 / Portraits

Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Artist / Origin Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
Region: Europe
Date 1906
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 39 3/8 in. (100 cm.), W: 32 in. (81.3 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1946 © 2009 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

expert perspective

Susan SidlauskasAssociate Professor of Art History, Rutgers University

Gertrude Stein

» Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)

expert perspective

Susan Sidlauskas Susan Sidlauskas Associate Professor of Art History, Rutgers University

When Picasso meets Gertrude Stein, she’s already a literary figure of great note. She’s a wealthy patron and a collector. So she is the person in many ways who should be pleased. Yet, he doesn’t please her. He frustrates her. They sit opposite each other on eighty occasions, maybe more. And he keeps painting out her face. He paints her face and then he paints it out, and he paints it again and then he gets rid of it. And he can’t really figure out how to represent her face. The usual conventions for the feminine aren’t going to work. So how does he represent that face? So there are still a variety of debates about what he looked at as a kind of model for this face. Some people say he looked at African sculpture. He was looking at sculpture that would simplify, radically simplify, to an almost abstract extreme, the features of the face, and create a kind of mask behind which the person existed. She was very distressed with how she looked. She said, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like me.’ And he said, ‘Oh, it will.’

The portrait evokes the interaction between the two of them, which was a very uneasy one. They were competing with each other. These were two very dominant personalities who naturally dominated their surroundings, and now here they were in one room.

When he said to her, you will look like that, that’s exactly what happened. When people think of Gertrude Stein, they think of this portrait.” 

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