Gertrude Stein was an American writer and an important influence on the Modernist movement in art and literature. She spent most of her life in France, and her salon, 27 rue de Fleurus, became an important meeting place for artists like Matisse and Picasso.
Photo: Gertrude Stein, photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Born in Pennsylvania, Stein and her family moved to Oakland, California when she was four years old. With the death of her parents (her mother in 1888 and her father in 1891), Stein and her sister were sent to Baltimore to live with relatives. Her studies from 1893 to 1897 at Radcliffe College with psychologist William James, the father of "stream-of-consciousness," were influential to her later writings, especially her work Tender Buttons. After Radcliffe, Stein studied at Johns Hopkins Medical School, but left in 1901 without finishing her degree.
Even more important to her cultural influence than her writing, Stein's art gallery in her Paris salon, begun in 1904, brought her great fame. She and her brother Leo began the gallery with their purchase of two Renoirs, a Gauguin, and a Cézanne. The collection continued to grow, and works by Matisse and Picasso entered the collection in 1905. She and Leo began to hold Saturday evening gatherings of artists, these gatherings including Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, and Henri Rousseau, among others. Leo and Gertrude had a familial break in 1914 over Gertrude's increasing support for Picasso, and Leo moved to Florence, Italy, taking half of the art collection with him.
Stein's move to Paris in 1903 also began her career as a writer. Her first important work was Three Lives (1905-1906) and then The Making of Americans (1906-1908). Both show her writing style in accordance with that of Joyce's Ulysses and Proust's In Search of Lost Time, employing repetition and a "stream-of-consciousness" approach. In her work Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (1914), Stein created small word-portraits of household goods which surprise in their juxtapositions and are brilliant translations of the Cubist painting style into words.
In 1907, Gertrude Stein met her lifetime partner Alice B. Toklas on Toklas's first day in Paris. Stein would eventually write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, published in 1933, which brought her great fame, especially for its descriptions of her artistic salons, as the artists and writers present were famous by the time the work was published.