One Portrait of One Woman

Marsden Hartley (1877–1943)
Oil on composition board, 1916
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; bequest of Hudson D. Walker from the Ione and Hudson D. Walker Collection

Marsden Hartley was the first American—and gay—artist whom Gertrude Stein encouraged. In 1912 he came to the Steins’ Saturday salons, and she made two studio visits to see his paintings. Flattered and hoping for continuing support, Hartley painted this symbolic portrait of Stein, focusing on the afternoon tea ritual at 27, rue de Fleurus. A teacup with a cross sits on a checkered tablecloth, with two burning candles on either side. Across the altar-like table, a mandala shape with a small circle suggests an illuminated head above a massive body. The red, white, and blue palette recalls the French and American flags, and the gold evokes light, aura, and holiness. Hartley anchors the painting with the French word “moi” (me), which recalls his position across the table from Stein and the word portrait she wrote about him in a play she called IIIIIIIIII. It also anoints Stein as the one—the “me”—around whom the art world orbited.