Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Gertude Stein has a fascinating history and so I was delighted to come across it at the recent Cubism exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where it is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Picasso first met Gertrude Stein in the early years of the twentieth century when he was still an ambitious but struggling young artist. Stein, for her part, was an American who had inherited enough money to allow her settle in Paris where she became, along with her brother Leo, an avid art collector as well as a writer. The Steins were not afraid to purchase the most daring works of art and the collection they amassed represented the cream of avant grade art emerging in Paris. The paintings lined the walls of their apartment at 27 Rue du Fleurus where Gertrude Stein’s legendary weekly salon attracted the good and the great of both the literary and artistic worlds and so acted like a showcase for the artists. Gertrude and Picasso developed a strong friendship and Stein became invaluable to Picasso not only for her financial aid but also for her belief in what he was doing.
Gertrude Stein was a larger than life character with a physical appearance to match. According to John Richardson in his Life of Picasso, Picasso was sofascinatedby her appearance and personality that he asked to paint her portrait. However, after more than 90 sittings he was dissatisfied with the result and painted out her head saying ‘I can’t see you any longer”. He put the painting aside in May 1906 when he left Paris to spend the summer in Gosol, a remote village in the Catalan Pyrenees. Here Picasso’s style went under a radical change. On his return from Gosol, it is said that he finished the portrait in one afternoon painting Stein’s face with mask like features suggesting an influence from Iberian sculptor. One wonders if his earlier frustrations with the portrait were bound up with an attempt to shake off his old style of painting in order to achieve a fresh pictorial vision. He certainly brought about a new vision in his art and Gertrude Stein’s painting, according to the exhibition ‘marked the end of the artist’s Rose Period and announced the advent of Cubism’.
Standing in front of the painting, the indomitable spirit of Gertrude Stein is tangible. Her image fills the canvas and she leans forward as if to draw you in to her presence. The painting is remarkable and when it was commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso allegedly stated, “Never mind, in the end she will manage to look just like it”. Apparently she did with Gertrude herself stating “For me, it is I.”
Andre Derain (1880-1954) is well known as an avant garde artist at the beginning of the 20th century and it is this period of his life that the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre concentrates on, as is evident from it’s title ‘André Derain, 1904-1914, The Radical Decade’. The exhibition leads the visitor through the various stages of Derain’s artistic development and differing styles from this decade, from his early days painting around his hometown, Chatou just outside Paris with the artist Maurice de Vlaminck, to his fauvist days in Collioure with Henri Matisse, on to his own style of cubism which developed during the course of his friendship with Pablo Picasso and then to his period described in the exhibition as magic realism. After this, Derain’s artistic career was interrupted by the First World War. After the war, Derain returned to a more traditional style of painting which led many to view him negatively in so far as he no longer strove to develop a more radical approach to art. However, there is a clue to his swing back to traditional art in the first painting at the exhibition, ‘The Carrying of the Cross’, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Bern, a copy of a painting by the Renaissance artist Baguio d’Antonio ( 1446-1516) which Derain painted in 1901, aged 21, when he spent time copying the Old Masters in the Louvre. Expecting to see radical art, I was startled to see this painting on entering the exhibition puzzled as to how this very traditional painting fitted in with radical art from the early 20th century. But before his ‘radical’ years this was what the 21 year old Derain was interested in and maybe it should be no surprise that after the experiments of his avant garde period, Derain returned to a form of art that he loved.
The exhibition doesn’t concern itself with Derain’s later more traditionally influenced art but highlights his contribution to the avant garde movements before the First World War. Derain started painting when he was still a teenager but it was only after his military service from 1901-1904 that he abandoned his career as an engineer and concentrated solely on an artistic career.
The exhibition groups paintings in chronological order and Room 2 displays works from the period 1904-1905 when, after his military service, Derain rented a studio with Vlaminck at Chatou during which time he painted bright colourful paintings of the surrounding countryside such as ‘Le Pecq, Winter’, 1904-1905 and on loan from the Cincinnati Art Museum (above). The next room shows paintings from the summer of 1905, one of the most famous periods in Derain’s career when he spent six weeks with Henri Matisse in Collioure in the south of France. Under the inspiration of the Mediterranean light, the two artist’s painted experimental works using vivid unnatural colours to produce works that saw the beginning of Fauvism such as ‘The Drying Sails’, 1905, (below) on loan from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, a painting which is a wonderful example of the effect of the Mediterranean light.
Although ridiculed by the critics for this new radical approach to art, Andre Derain had made a name for himself and he was commissioned by the dealer Ambroise Vollard to go to London to paint a series of cityscapes as Vollard had seen the success that Claude Monet’s views of London’s had brought a few years earlier. Room 6 at the exhibition displays several of these London scenes including the one below of London Bridge painted in 1906 and on loan from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Derain found London dull but with his new approach to colour and technique he presented London in a very fresh and radical way and these paintings were and still remain a very popular part of his œuvre.
Like many artists of the day, Derain was hugely influenced by Paul Cezanne and in particular his ‘Bathers’ compositions. Between 1907 and 1908, Derain, Matisse and Picasso inspired and drove each other to produce great works of art based on this theme. The two large bathing scenes by Derain at the exhibition were the highlight for me and as one is muted the other is dramatic.
The first one above on the left painted in 1908 from the Prague National Gallery is painted in cool shades and the figures look more sculpted and are grouped closely together in various poses. The one on the right, painted in 1907 from the Museum of Modern Art New York is far more dramatic and the bathers almost look like they are performing some kind of dance. Arising from this period, came the beginnings of cubism but Derain’s form of cubism always kept a sense of realism unlike Picasso.
Room 9 displays works described as ‘Magic Realism’ by the exhibition and includes ‘Le Samedi’, 1914 from the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, below left and several portraits such as ‘Le Jeune Fille’, 1914 from the Picasso Museum, Paris, below right.
The exhibition also deals with Derain’s interest in photography as well as the influence that African and Oceanic art had on him ever since he first became fascinated with it following a visit to the British Museum in London whilst painting his cityscapes. The exhibition also includes his famous ‘Dance’ painted in 1906 and concludes with the monumental canvas ‘L’Age d’or, 1938-1944, both of which evoke some kind of mythical landscape.
As a result, the exhibition brings together a very varied body of work and confirm Derain as a truly avant garde artist who veered off on his own path to arrive at his own unique style.