Henri Matisse
Sarah Stein, 1916

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.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Sarah Stein
Artist name
Henri Matisse
Date created
oil on canvas
28 1/2 in. × 22 1/4 in. (72.39 cm × 56.52 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Elise S. Haas
© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

On Matisse’s special friendship with his sitter

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Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling describes this portrait of Sarah Stein, painted in 1916.  



It’s an ethereal painting he paints really that spirit that he said he saw looking out of her eyes. The spirit that had instantly recognized his spirit– she recognized it from his paintings, and she said that what always moved her most about those paintings was their purity, their nobility, their serenity– and that is the mode in which he painted Sarah, to the outside, the naked eye, she wasn’t chic, she dressed strangely in oriental draperies, and weird colors– nothing like what the smart young lady was wearing in Paris in those days.  

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