Press Office Exhibition


The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde to Premiere in San Francisco and Travel to Paris and New York in 2011–2012

New Research and Archival Material Capture Indelible Impact of Steins' Patronage

Released: June 03, 2011 ·

The Steins are responsible in many ways for the turn-of-the century revolution in the visual arts through their adventurous patronage, deep ties to leading minds of the era, and legendary Paris salon gatherings. As powerful tastemakers, they had a commitment to the new, a confidence in their inclinations, and a drive to build appreciation for the work they loved. From the moment they first dared to admire Matisse’s scandalous Woman with a Hat (1905)—the “nasty smear of paint”1 that gave the fauves their name—the foursome were staking claims for modern art that would heavily influence their peers and transform the careers of several of the most important artists of the century. 

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde reunites the unparalleled modern art collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah Stein. Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris, this major touring exhibition gathers approximately 200 iconic paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and illustrated books not only by Matisse and Picasso, who are each represented by dozens of works, but also by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Henri Manguin, Francis Picabia, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Félix Vallotton, among others. The Steins Collect will premiere at SFMOMA from May 21 through September 6, 2011, before traveling to Paris and then New York. 

Supplemented by a rich array of archival materials—including photographs, family albums, film clips, correspondence, and ephemera—the exhibition provides a new perspective on the artistic foresight of this innovative family, tracing their enduring impact on art-making and collecting practices and their inestimable role in creating a new international standard of taste for modern art.

Sarah and Michael Stein’s return to San Francisco with a cache of important Matisse works in 1935, the same year SFMOMA was founded, was particularly instrumental in the advocacy of modern art on the West Coast as well as the making of the museum’s early collection; SFMOMA’s presentation will underscore the Steins’ deep connections to the Bay Area.

“The Stein family legacy is proof that individual collectors make a huge impact on art history,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. “I can’t imagine a more timely and inspiring reminder that when it comes to collecting, presenting, and preserving the art of our time, it’s the appetite for risk and intellectual engagement with living artists that brings about the most important and lasting outcomes.”

“It’s really impossible to overestimate the role of this eccentric American family as patrons of visual art in early 20th-century Paris,” says co-curator Janet Bishop of SFMOMA. “The Steins were true champions of modernism, embracing and defending new art as it was first being made and before it was met with widespread acceptance. They not only avidly collected works when the artists most needed support, but also enthusiastically opened their modest Left Bank homes to anyone wishing to see the most radical art of the day.”    

As American expatriates living in France, the four Steins were pivotal in shaping the city’s vibrant cultural life. Leo Stein (1872–1947) and younger sister Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) were the first to leave the family home in Oakland, traveling to Paris along with millions of tourists to visit the 1900 World’s Fair and then relocating to the city in 1902 and 1903, respectively. Sarah Stein (1870–1953) and Michael Stein (1865–1938) soon followed from San Francisco with their eight-year-old son, Allan, arriving in early 1904. The family established their apartments on rue de Fleurus (Leo and Gertrude) and rue Madame (Sarah and Michael) and quickly integrated into the intellectual circles of the Parisian avant-garde. Gertrude and Leo lived modestly off family investments and had to team up to afford their early purchases. “You can either buy clothes or buy pictures. It’s that simple. . . . No one who is not very rich can do both,” was Gertrude’s legendary quote from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

The Steins also formed close friendships with the emerging artists they championed, particularly Matisse and Picasso, whose works they aggressively collected and promoted to their associates, almost single-handedly creating markets for their work outside Paris. They dined and vacationed regularly with Matisse and his family, counseled Fernande Olivier on her stormy relationship with Picasso, and made countless introductions. Sarah was instrumental in helping Matisse establish his art school and was among his devoted students.

Along the way, the Steins covered their studio walls with cutting-edge paintings by the most controversial artists of the day and were soon overwhelmed with requests to see the collections. They eventually had to establish regular visiting hours so that Gertrude could attend to her writing in peace. Michael and Sarah decided to open their apartment on the same night of the week and so began the prestigious Saturday evening salons where the brightest artists, writers, musicians, and collectors of the day convened to discuss the latest developments. Anyone with a proper referral was welcome to strain their eyes to see the works by candlelight, as neither apartment was wired with electricity yet.

Following its SFMOMA debut, The Steins Collect will travel to the Grand Palais, Paris (October 3, 2011, through January 16, 2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (February 21 through June 3, 2012). The exhibition is cocurated by Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA; Cécile Debray, curator of historical collections at the Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Rebecca Rabinow, associate curator and administrator, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Chairman, Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A richly illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with new research and original essays from a range of French and American experts in the field.

The Steins Collect draws from prominent public and private collections worldwide and spans the family’s entire collecting history. Among some 40 works by Picasso and approximately 60 by Matisse are such masterpieces as Matisse’s Blue Nude (Baltimore Museum of Art), Woman with a Hat (SFMOMA), Self-Portrait (Statens Museum, Copenhagen), and Tea (LACMA); and Picasso’s Lady with a Fan (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Boy Leading a Horse (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Nude with Joined Hands (Museum of Modern Art, New York), and portrait of Gertrude Stein (Metropolitan Museum of Art), among many others.

Works will be presented roughly chronologically by when they were originally acquired by the family, highlighting major themes and benchmarks of both art history and the Steins’ parallel journey: the Paris art scene and Leo’s early interests in Cézanne, Renoir, and Manet to the infamous 1905 Salon d’Automne; Leo and Gertrude’s joint acquisitions and the rue de Fleurus; Michael and Sarah Stein’s particular devotion to Matisse and the rue Madame; Gertrude’s collecting patterns, from her complex relationship with Picasso and their artistic influence on each other through her later promotion of Gris, André Masson, and Picabia in the 1920s and ’30s; and Michael and Sarah’s history-making art advocacy in the United States, from a 1906 trip home, when they brought the first Matisse paintings to be seen on American soil, to their 1935 return to Palo Alto, California. The exhibition will also feature a special gallery devoted to the Académie Matisse, as well as a gallery conceived by SFMOMA project assistant curator Carrie Pilto devoted to the Steins’ patronage of modern architecture with their commission of the Villa Stein-de Monzie by Le Corbusier.   

Informed by new research, the exhibition expands upon Four Americans in Paris: the Collections of Gertrude Stein and Her Family, an exhibition organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1970—the last and only significant occasion for which these collections were assembled. Additionally, The Steins Collect seeks to address the historical bias toward Gertrude, which has obscured the fact that the family comprised multiple, interlocking centers of gravity, each with a particular aesthetic and set of favored artists. “Married into a family of brilliant minds and self-mythologizers, Sarah was the one who stood out to Matisse as ‘the really intellectually sensitive member of the family’—a patron in every sense of the word,” says Bishop.

The Gertrude Stein Opera

In conjunction with the exhibition, SFMOMA’s Live Art program will restage a production of Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), composer Virgil Thomson’s experimental opera based on Gertrude Stein’s original play. The opera focuses on two 16th-century Spanish saints—Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila—as they contemplate their earthly lives. The original staging was considered radical for its convention-defying format and its libretto (by Stein) concerned more with the sounds of words than with story. Bringing the piece into the 21st century, SFMOMA’s production will seek to reactivate the avant-garde energy at the heart of the Stein legacy, and will revisit Thomson’s insistence that the saints in the opera are really artists, punctuating the notion of creative community that the Steins so well represent. “We viewed a saint’s life as related to our own,” Thomson has said of his collaboration with Gertrude Stein on the project. “In all times, the consecrated artist has tended to live surrounded by younger artists and to guide them into the ways of spontaneity.” The opera will be presented in collaboration with the innovative chamber opera group Ensemble Parallèle, with original music and visuals by composer Luciano Chessa and video/performance artist Kalup Linzy. Performances of the opera will take place Thursday through Saturday, August 18 to 21, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA).

Authoritative Catalogue

To accompany the exhibition, SFMOMA, in association with Yale University Press, will publish a lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue (cloth, 464 pages, $75), featuring previously unpublished archival information and original essays by Isabel Alfandary, Janet Bishop, Emily Braun, Edward Burns, Cécile Debray, Claudine Grammont, Hélène Klein, Martha Lucy, Carrie Pilto, Rebecca Rabinow, and Gary Tinterow. A benchmark contribution to scholarship on the period, this authoritative volume will also include a complete timeline of the Steins’ collecting activity created by Kate Mendillo and a catalogue of the family’s holdings compiled by Robert McDonald Parker, who also annotates a selection of rare photographs depicting the changing configurations of works on the walls of the various Stein salons.

Companion Exhibition

The Steins Collect will run in tandem with a companion exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories (May 12 through September 6, 2011) draws upon a wealth of archival materials to provide an intimate, biographical look at Gertrude’s world of ideas. Focusing on her patronage, lifestyle, and publishing activity from the end of World War I through World War II, the exhibition explores her evolving public persona and how her writings and personality have impressed themselves upon the American artistic imagination.


The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Presenting support is provided by the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund. Lead Corporate support is provided by The Charles Schwab Corporation. Premier support is provided by the Evelyn D. Haas Exhibition Fund and the Koret Foundation. Major support is provided by Martha and Bruce Atwater, Gerson and Barbara Bakar, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; The Bernard Osher Foundation; and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. Generous support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Gay-Lynn and Robert Blanding, Jean and James E. Douglas Jr., Ann and Robert S. Fisher, Gretchen and Howard Leach, Elaine McKeon, Deborah and Kenneth Novack, Thelma and Gilbert Schnitzer, The Schnitzer Novack Foundation, and Lydia and Douglas Shorenstein. Additional support is provided by Dolly and George Chammas; and Concepciόn and Irwin Federman. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Major media support is provided by the Bay Area News Group and The Examiner. Generous promotional support is provided by KGO-TV and KQED.

Jill Lynch 415.357.4172
Clara Hatcher Baruth 415.357.4177 chatcher@sfmoma.org
Press Office