Review: Grand Palais Presents “Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso…L’aventure des Stein”

Review: Grand Palais Presents “Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso…L’aventure des Stein”
Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso… L’aventure des Stein Grand Palais, Galeries Nationales until January 16, 2012 The Grand Palais has a well-established reputation for presenting blockbuster exhibitions and their current show, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso… L’aventure des Stein, immediately drew international attention. The Grand Palais joined with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (“The Met”) to create this major exhibition with about 200 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and printed articles by Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and many other influential early 20th-century modern artists. The traveling exhibition opened first in San Francisco last May as “Steins Collect.”  Michael and Sarah Stein had close ties to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art after moving to Palo Alto leaving Paris. So who were the Steins? In short they were California siblings, Gertrude, Leo and Michael (later joined by wife, Sarah) who inherited money from their father, a railroad and real estate investor. Leo and Gertrude first moved to Paris at the very start of the 20th century; Michael and Sarah followed in 1904. All collected the newest, unhailed avant-garde art of their time, the first half of the twentieth century. “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, embracing and defending new art as it was first being made and before it was met with widespread acceptance. They not only 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.” Gertrude’s literary accomplishments established her as the best known of the siblings. Her controversial literature career smashed societal taboos and literary rules, with techniques such as automatic writing. Her most popular book, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was about the life of her lesbian partner. Filmmaker Woody Allen recently returned Gertrude Stein to the mainstream by including her as a character in Midnight in Paris, his cinematic ode to Literary Paris. Leo sparked the Steins’ interest in art collecting after he spent a year in Florence after reading the History of Art and Philosophy at university and taking a world tour. His new world awareness turned him into an art cconnoisseur, noted art critic and, initially, collector of reproductions of Renaissance works. It didn’t take long for him to become hooked and soon the entire Stein family joined him in collecting art, quickly assembling a remarkable collection of art created by artists they befriended. When the Steins moved to Paris in 1902 they quickly formed friendships with artists, poets and bohemians. On Saturdays Gertrude and Leo hosted open house “salons” at their home on 27, rue de Fleurus in the Paris 6th, where guests were encouraged to philosophize, inspire, create and of course to eat drink and be merry. The residence walls became a private art gallery, and pictures in the Grand Palais exhibition show the walls of the Stein home adorned with a wealth of work by Manet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne, considered by art historians the pillars of modern art who are considered by many art historians to be the pillars of modern art. Michael and Sarah, meanwhile, focused on collecting work by their friend, Henri Matisse. In fact, they sponsored the first U.S. exhibition of Matisse’s works soon after they returned to Northern California in 1935. It is not certain whether the artists in this exhibition became successful because of the Steins or if the family just had a good eye for who was going to make it big. Either way, the resulting collection is like a crash course in modern art that spans some of the most important movements in visual art including Post-impressionism, Cubism, Post-cubism and Neo-romanticism. This exhibition is not about a rich family who splashed their cash, they took risks on art they loved and believed in. One of the most important pieces in the collection, the iconic “La Femme au Chapeau” (Woman with a Hat) by Matisse was a dramatic turning point for modern art when originally displayed at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, also held at the Grand Palais. Although it seems quite vanilla today, at the time the model’s moody stare and the psychedelic colors applied directly from paint tube to canvas upset many in the art world. Public response was strong, with critical comments that reflected anger and repulsion. Art critic Louis Vauxcelles described the painting as a “nasty smear of paint” and he labeled the artists…
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