Henri MatisseFrench (Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, 1869 - 1954, Nice, France)
Of the members of the intellectually stalwart Stein family — Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife, Sarah — it was Sarah whose bond with Matisse transcended that of patron/artist and reached a level of spiritual connection. "She knows my paintings better than I do," Matisse is purported to have said.
In the sole instance of double portraiture in his career, Matisse executed bust-length paintings of Sarah and Michael Stein. Though perhaps commissions, the portraits were more likely made in homage to the artist's most passionate American supporters. The two works of art are of comparable size and share a somber palette, but the portrait of Sarah is the more complex of the two.
When Sarah Stein began to slowly disperse her art collection in the years before her death in 1953, Elise Stern Haas purchased the portrait of Sarah and convinced a Chicago collector, Nathan Cummings, to acquire the portrait of Michael, with the understanding that both would eventually become part of SFMOMA's collection. Mrs. Haas wanted the portraits to remain as a pair in San Francisco, in honor of her close friends and their role in bringing the work of Matisse to the Bay Area.