Saturday, March 3, 2012

This Woman's History

I loved Woody Allen's, Midnight in Paris, but it was my joy at seeing Gertrude Stein's targeted nurturing of the artists and writers of Paris in the twenties that, as portrayed by Kathy Bates, stole the film.

It is a lovely  coincidence that from February 28 to June 3, 2012,the
Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, and Etta Cone.
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is showing, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avante-Garde. The exhibit is described as "fragmented and contentious, with flashes of brilliance,"a phrase one could attach to Stein herself, whose writings and bold personality perhaps reflected in words and actions the cubist approach to art.

I am from Baltimore and in my teens regularly visited the collection of Gertrude Stein's friends, Claribel and Etta Cone, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I would walk a mile from my house to the city bus stop and for a quarter ride uptown from Brooklyn to the Johns Hopkins campus where the museum is located. In the 70s, the entrance was through the grand doors of the original building, with the Cone Collection just to the left, off of the great hall. Stein and her circle of writers and painters figure prominently in this exhibit. I loved the way in which one of the Cone sister's rooms was recreated with what are now paintings worth millions of dollars, all hung side-by-side like family portraits. I can still feel the magic of walking through the gallery filled with Matisse, Picasso and Renoir.

In 1974, I read James R. Mellows, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company jealous of their gatherings on the Left Bank at 27, rue de Fleurus, so well depicted in Allen's film. It's a puzzle to me how I learned of these ladies as my post-war row house south of Baltimore had neither art or nor books, but I would definitely count them as early mentors, giving me a unique and independent view to the ways of the world. I admire them for collecting the work of and supporting artists who today are household names, but then were not yet known on the world stage. 

For Women's History Month, I want to acknowledge the role these women, who lived in my hometown, had early on in forming my sensibilities regarding art, travel and literature. They helped me develop a critical eye and to see, I think, that art, or life, need not be popular or classically beautiful, but passionate and honest.

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