THE STEINS BEFORE 1900
The Steins were an upper-middle-class Jewish family. Following the marriage of German-born Daniel Stein (1832–1891) to Amelia Keyser (1842–1888) in Baltimore, he and his brother established the Pittsburgh branch of the family's manufacturing and wholesale clothing firm. All seven of Amelia and Daniel's children, including two who died in infancy, were born in Pennsylvania: Michael (1865–1938), Simon (1868–1913), Bertha (1870–1924), Leo (1872–1947), and Gertrude (1874–1946). The Pittsburgh division of Stein Brothers closed in 1875, and the family spent the next few years in Vienna and Paris before settling in Oakland, California.
After his father's death in 1891, twenty-five-year-old Michael assumed the role of family banker. Bertha and Gertrude were sent to live with a maternal aunt in Baltimore. Leo transferred from the University of California, Berkeley, to Harvard. He enrolled at Harvard Law School before finishing his undergraduate degree but withdrew after one semester and spent much of 1895–96 traveling around the world.
Meanwhile, in fall 1893 Gertrude began studying philosophy and psychology at the Harvard Annex (renamed Radcliffe College the following year). She and Leo subsequently shared an apartment in Baltimore while they attended Johns Hopkins University. Leo completed his undergraduate degree and spent one year in a doctoral program for zoology, while Gertrude studied at the medical school. Neither sibling successfully completed the requirements necessary to graduate.
Michael remained in California. Instrumental in merging San Francisco's cable-car lines, he was promoted to division superintendent of the Market Street Railway Company. He married a San Francisco native, Sarah Samuels (1870–1953), in March 1894. Their only child, Allan (1895–1951), was born the following year.
CONTEMPORARY ART ON VIEW IN PARIS, CA. 1900–1904
Leo had been delighted to find a welcoming expatriate community when he moved to Fiesole in autumn 1900. Egisto Fabbri (1866–1933), an Italian-American painter and heir to a banking fortune, and Charles Loeser (1864–1928), heir to the eponymous Brooklyn department store, both showed him their recently formed collections of Cézanne's work. They had begun buying the paintings after an 1895 exhibition at Ambroise Vollard's Parisian gallery rescued the artist from obscurity. Another Italian-based friend, the art historian Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), encouraged Leo to buy a Cézanne painting for himself.
Leo began spending more time in Paris in early 1903, when he rented a studio and apartment near the Musée du Luxembourg, which was devoted to the work of living artists. Less than a decade earlier, the artist Gustave Caillebotte's bequest to the French State triggered a spirited debate as to whether Impressionist art was worthy of being exhibited in a public institution. Ultimately, only part of the bequest was accepted, and it was installed in a single room of the Musée du Luxembourg. It was there, Leo said, that he finally began to understand the importance of Auguste Renoir.
On October 15, 1904, the second Salon d'Automne (an exhibition of contemporary art held each fall) opened with retrospectives devoted to five artists who were considered among the most relevant for the younger generation of painters: Cézanne, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Odilon Redon, Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The impact on Leo was dramatic. Two weeks later he and Gertrude emptied their bank accounts and spent all their spare money on modern art.