We are all aware of the great life and times of Gertrude Stein. How can you not love the woman who helped groom so many great writers and artists to the center stage of the world. From F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to great artists as Picasso and Georges Braque. Gertrude was born in Pennsylvania and lived abroad in Europe with her family the first few years of her life. When the family moved back state-side they settled in Oakland, California. Both of Stein’s parents died when she was young and she and her sister were sent to live with family in Baltimore, Maryland.
In Baltimore she met and became fast friends with sisters Claribel and Etta Cone who were expats from Baltimore on a trip from their new home, Paris. The three ladies became fast friends and in 1902, Gertrude and her two brothers moved to Europe with her settling in Paris around 1903. Stein was a truly gifted writer and poet but her talent truly lay with her ability to teach and groom students. Stein had many great pieces of literature published as early as her college days but one of the most pivotal pieces of literature she created was the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Gertrude and her brothers were great collectors of artwork and amassed a large number of friendships with some of the most scion painters of the impressionist and post impressionist period and befriend inspiring newcomers such as Picasso and Stein was also the catalyst of many of the movements such as Cubism, Surrealism and Grupo Montparnasse. She was also deemed the “Mother of Modernism”. I have been devotee of Stein’s Salon layout style. Numerous paintings clustered together and a melding of artists on each wall. One of the most important life achievements that Stein accomplished was championing women’s rights. She took a firm stance on the issue both in the states as well as in Europe. Of coarse there is the honest truth that Stein was a lesbian and her relationship with Toklas was prime example of how Hetero and Homosexual relationships only differ on one trait of sexual preference. Otherwise witnesses of their love for each other was typical of any straight relationship.
Towards the second world war, Stein’s life was filled with great turmoil and history and time has taken liberty with the truth. From the 1970’s to the 90’s there seemed to be a push to rewrite Stein’s history as being a villain of the second world war. Some critics believe this negative rumor campaign was a dramatization of Stein’s personal friendships prior to the war with certain heads of state who had their hand in the pinnacle moments in the war. Namely her opinions of long time acquaintances Philleppe Pétain and Francisco Franco. Sadly a lot of these rumors and lies still live on the internet today and journalists still like to use these hearsay for it’s shock value.
Stein suffered like many Jews in Europe but was lucky enough to escape Paris before the occupation by living in the French countryside. Accounts of this period are lacking and it’s hard to judge which story is accurate. Some believe she was a Nazi sympathizer while the other half believe she was apart of resistance. Sadly, Stein and Toklas lost almost everything when leaving Paris. Money, the art collection (minus two painting they could tie to roof of their car) and access to their family money. By the second war, her two brothers had already left Paris and were living back in the states. Leo eventually moved the Florence, Italy to retire with his wife. Stein, like many Jewish communities seemed to suffer from the “lack of knowing the now”, hence the lack of hast to leave Europe to avoid the atrocities. In the later years of the war her opinions and tone in writings became more sympathetic with the agony of Europe and the many communities were suffering.
We all have our painful moments in life, times we are not proud of our selves. But how many of us can actually say they helped groom some of the greatest writers and artists of several generations. Not many, right? While Stein wasn’t a party hound who stayed out late at the bars and clubs in Paris, she was the late night stop for all during the 20’s and 30’s. While we all hit that one bar or club that stays open late, visionaries like the Fitzgerald’s and Picasso’s ended the evenings at Stein’s and Toklas house.