Story 1: Picturing Gertrude
She wore some covering of corduroy or velvet and her crinkly hair was brushed back and twisted up high behind her jolly, intelligent face. She intellectualized her fat, and her body seemed to be the large machine that her large nature required to carry it.
– Mabel Dodge Luhan, American patron of the arts, European Experiences, 1935
Gertrude Stein became one of the most photographed, painted, and sculpted women of the twentieth century. This story looks at what her portrait images tell us about her childhood in an ambitious, upper-middle-class Jewish family; her evolution into the “new American girl”; and her first distinctive identity in Paris as a bohemian priestess. In portraits after World War I, Stein appears more matronly until she cut her hair in 1926 and refashioned herself as mannish and lesbian. Artists used the neoclassical vocabulary then in fashion to portray her as a Roman emperor, a force of nature, and a fearless tastemaker in international letters.
The portraits of Stein—far more numerous than those of most modern writers—reveal that she liked to pose for artists and understood the power of imagery to shape her reputation and public identity. She benefited when portraits of her circulated in exhibitions and in newspapers and magazines; artists gained because these works testified to their membership in Stein’s prestigious circle.
|Next: Domestic Stein|