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The Stein Collection

Matisse, Picasso and Parisian Avant-Garde

As San Francisco enters the Summer of Stein, venues all over the city are celebrating the artistically rich and creatively vibrant life of Gertrude Stein and her brothers, Leo and Michael Stein.

The Museum of Modern Art brings together a staggering art collection of a family known for its eccentric and incredibly bohemian lifestyle with The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde. The three Stein siblings, as well as Michael's wife, Sarah, are hailed as taste-makers who collected iconic works and held regular evening salons in their apartment where curious Parisians could come view some of the most talented and radical artists of the 20th century.

Curated by Janet Bishop, The Steins Collect features 200 paintings, sculptures, and other pieces reunified to showcase the breathtaking artistry of modern art staples like Cézanne, Mane,t and Renoir. A photo of the Stein family, a clearly eclectic bunch, opens the exhibit and sets the stage for the sprawling diversity ahead: Maguin pieces with their impossibly soft strokes and pastels mingle with Max Weber's “Apollo in Matisse's Studio” and other elegant nudes. Francis Rose's epically psychedelic “Homage To Gertrude Stein” rubs shoulders with surrealist beauties by Tchelitchew.

Although the bulk of the collection focuses heavily on the mastery, prolificacy, and innovation of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the exhibit also provides a glimpse into an abundant life where having great artists as friends directly influenced the amazing art the Steins chose to narrate their lives.

Postcards from Matisse with sketches of his family as well as his well-known oil painting “Woman with a Hat,” which is said to have cemented the Steins' status as serious collectors in 1905, come to life among personal effects belonging to the Steins, sucha as birth and death certificates, wills, and personal family photos. Letters from Picasso with whimsical, dancing characters drawn by hand sit amidst dark, heavy cabinets and desks from 27 rue de Fleurus, the infamous apartment pictured in aging black and white photos.

A few standout works include Russian-born Pavel Tchelitchew's “Three Heads,” a study of perspective and juxtaposition as well as “Final Sketch for Phenomena,” a mythic, technicolor piece with origins that carry an especially humorous anecdote. It's reported that after a particularly nasty falling-out with Gertrude and her partner Alice B. Toklas, Tchelitchew created a piece that pictures Gertrude and Alice as evil-mongers seated in front of an ominous, shrouded figure among visions of misery and torture. He referred to them as “Sitting Bull, Knitting Maniac.”

Admittedly, the collection is overwhelming and quite expansive. Putting these pieces into context historically places them in the midst of a progressive art movement marked by the emergence of new styles and genres and makes for some outstanding viewing. Matisse's strikingly vibrant and fluid pieces compliment the angular, perfectly-shaded Cubist works of Picasso.

This collection serves as a penetrating look into the lives of the Steins and the integral role their intimate friendships played in propelling the evolution of Parisian art and its resulting acceptance into the world of respected modern art. This congregation of contemporary greats is an unarguably impressive cultural narrative and a testament to the Steins' genius contribution to shaping the taste of the time.

Now through September 16th