Gallery Five


The Steins were natural networkers. They famously introduced Matisse to Picasso in late 1905 or early 1906 and provided access to the art of the Parisian avant-garde for hundreds of people who otherwise might not have had a chance to see it. During this period Picasso rarely exhibited his work in public. The impact of Manguin's and Matisse's submissions to the fall and spring Salons was sometimes obscured by the thousands of other works on view. None of these artists was represented in the Musée du Luxembourg, the only museum in Paris devoted to contemporary art. The Steins' apartments provided an alternative.

The first documented visitors to 27, rue de Fleurus were Leo's artist friends, who often found him pacing the studio or reclining on a daybed while extolling the individual merits of the pictures. As word of the Steins' collection spread, they were overwhelmed with requests for visits. Gertrude, who used the atelier as her writing studio, particularly resented the frequent interruptions. A decision was made to consolidate the visits and open both Leo and Gertrude's studio and Sarah and Michael's apartment on Saturday evenings to anyone who arrived with a reference in hand.

Artists, writers, musicians, and collectors convened to discuss the latest artistic developments. Matches were lit to illuminate dark corners, and both homes were permeated by an atmosphere of freedom and possibility. The Steins were particularly proud of the naysayers they converted—the visitors who "came to mock and remained to pray." Some artists sketched the work they saw. Others referred to, or reacted against, the paintings in more subtle ways. Visitors from the United States, Europe, and Russia spread news of what they had seen. By opening their homes and making their art accessible, the Steins did more to support avant-garde painting than any other collectors or institutions during the first decade of the twentieth century.


The 1906 spring Salon des Indépendants was an exciting moment for the Steins. Two of the 5,552 works listed in the catalogue—Flowers and Portrait (whereabouts unknown)—were painted by Leo. Of course, Matisse's submission, Bonheur de Vivre (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia), generated significantly more interest. The painting's flat tints and thick outlines signaled a controversial new direction for the artist. Some of his past supporters felt that he had lost his way, but Leo was intrigued. He recognized references to various art-historical precedents, including Cézanne's pastoral scene of bathers in a forest, rendered in a colorful visual vocabulary. Unfortunately, Leo was in no position to purchase the painting. A devastating earthquake had struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, just weeks after the Salon opened. Sarah and Michael rushed to California to check on family members and their lucrative rental properties. Leo informed Matisse of his quandary. Because the artist did not have room for the oversize canvas, it was soon installed in the rue de Fleurus atelier and paid for the following year.


It is no coincidence that the three canvases of La Coiffure on view in the exhibition were painted within a few years of one other. Manguin's version was created first. Sarah and Michael bought it in February 1906. It was one of their earliest purchases of contemporary art in Paris.

Recent conservation studies of Picasso's canvas reveal that in late winter or early spring 1906 he painted this version of La Coiffure on top of a used canvas. The artist was already acquainted with Sarah and Michael and would have known about their new Manguin. Always savvy and certainly in need of money, Picasso surely hoped to tempt the Steins with another rendition of the theme. They did not purchase Picasso's La Coiffure, probably as a result of the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake and fire that April. They rushed back to California and remained in the United States until late autumn, by which time the dealer Vollard had already acquired the painting.

Sarah and Michael remodeled their apartment after they returned to Paris. They explained to Matisse that they hoped to add some of his recent work to their main room in order "to make [the] arrangement just right." They were particularly enthusiastic about his version of La Coiffure, which is clearly modeled on Manguin's painting. The canvases are the same size and offer compelling similarities, from the pose, dress, and hairstyle of the standing woman to the strong vertical division of space in the background. Matisse even plucked the pink flower from Manguin's table and used it to adorn his model's hair. Unfortunately, the painting was priced beyond Sarah and Michael's means, but Matisse found a creative solution. He arranged to sell it to the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who in turn agreed to trade it to Sarah and Michael in exchange for a combination of cash plus their Gauguin Head of a Tahitian Girl (whereabouts unknown).

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