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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

Additional Resources

Baldassari, Anne, and William Rubin, eds. Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation. New York: HNA, 1996.

Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture. London: Reaktion, 2004.

Giroud, Vincent. Picasso and Gertrude Stein. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.

Lubar, Robert S. “Unmasking Pablo’s Getrude: Queer Desire and the Subject of Portraiture.” Art Bulletin 79.1 (March 1997): 57–84.

“Pablo Picasso: Gertrude Stein (47.106).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/11/euwf/ho_47.106.htm (October 2006).

Picasso, Pablo, and Gertrude Stein. Correspondence: Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Edited by Lorna Scott Fox. London: Seagull Books, 2008

Portus, Javier. Spanish Portrait from El Greco to Picasso. London and New York: Scala, 2006.

Gertrude Stein

» Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)

In the long and celebrated career of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein is an early work.

Picasso and Stein, an American, were both expatriates living in Paris when they became friends. Stein soon became an important early patron of the artist as well. A sophisticated, modernist writer and the host of a famous weekly literary and artistic salon, Gertrude Stein was a large and formidable woman who, just as Picasso depicted her, habitually wore a brown velvet suit.

Stein posed for Picasso during more than eighty sessions in 1905, but the artist was never satisfied with the way he painted her face. The following year, however, he discovered his solution. Essentially abandoning the idea of a faithful representation of Stein’s features, the artist turned to what he considered “primitive” ancient Roman and archaic Iberian sculpture for inspiration. While he painted Stein’s body with relatively naturalistic mass, her visage in the final portrait is mask-like and planar. The face is where we normally expect to get a glimpse of personality, or at the very least individuality. Picasso’s treatment of Stein’s face was, therefore, ironic and unexpected.

Stein hung this portrait prominently in the gallery room where she held her salons (at which Picasso was a frequent guest). On seeing it, some of Stein’s friends expressed disappointment in the portrait, complaining that she did not look like the painted image. In response to this criticism, Picasso famously and succinctly predicted, “She will.” Ultimately, his wry retort proved to be accurate. This portrait has emerged as the iconic image of Gertrude Stein. Even though the likeness is not realistic, it is the picture by which history remembers her.

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