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Gallery Two


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Curator Rebecca Rabinow provides audio commentary on the in-gallery projection of Leo and Gertrude Stein's studio and collection. Transcript available in Met Media

Leo Stein stopped over in Paris while traveling from London to Fiesole in late December 1902. After dining with his friend the cellist Pablo Casals, he returned to his hotel room and sketched his reflection in a wardrobe mirror. Leo later recalled it as the moment he decided to become an artist. His cousin, who was studying sculpture in Paris, directed him to a recently constructed atelier and adjacent two-bedroom apartment available for rent at 27, rue de Fleurus, a few blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens.

Leo's studio measured approximately 460 square feet—the size of this room. He furnished it with rugs and antique wooden furniture that he had acquired in Italy. Gertrude joined him in fall 1903, and the atelier became a shared workspace where Leo painted and Gertrude wrote. Over the next few years, their art collection grew. Leo resided at 27, rue de Fleurus until 1913. Gertrude and her companion, Alice Toklas, who joined them in fall 1910, remained there for another twenty-five years.


Leo was a collector by nature. During his two and one-half years in Fiesole, he purchased inexpensive first editions, small panel paintings, antique weapons, and Renaissance furniture. Now, in Paris, he was amazed to discover that he could afford contemporary oil paintings. He was most attracted to colorful figurative work—traditional subject matter rendered in innovative ways.

Leo's youngest sister, Gertrude, joined him in fall 1903, and their eldest brother, Michael, together with his family, followed in January 1904. Nine months later, when Michael informed Leo and Gertrude that they each had a windfall of eight thousand francs ($1,600), they decided to pool their resources and buy art rather than bonds.

Leo was the driving force of the collection during these early years. He and Gertrude went to Vollard's gallery and chose an assortment of small paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, and Renoir. Leo planned to augment their collection of modern masters with examples by Bonnard, Degas, Van Gogh, Manet, and Vuillard. After realizing that he could not afford to pursue that strategy, Leo instead began to purchase inexpensive works by relatively unknown younger artists.

In 1905 Leo saw his first Picasso drawings at a modern furniture store. He bought two large pictures by the artist soon afterward. That fall Leo and Gertrude purchased a Bonnard nude and Matisse's Woman with a Hat. Leo explained to a friend back in the States, "All our recent accessions are unfortunately by people you never heard of so there's no use trying to describe them, except that one of those out of the salon [the Matisse] made everybody laugh except a few who got mad about it and two other pictures are by a young Spaniard named Picasso whom I consider a genius of very great magnitude."

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