Journey into the Self: Being the Letters, Papers & Journals of Leo Stein

Journey into the Self: Being the Letters, Papers & Journals of Leo Stein

Journey into the Self: Being the Letters, Papers & Journals of Leo Stein

Journey into the Self: Being the Letters, Papers & Journals of Leo Stein

Excerpt

When, at the age of seventy-five, Leo Stein died in 1947, he had become a legendary figure, partly because of the distance that lends enchantment to Americans who spend their lives in Europe. I saw him only once or twice, in the days of The Seven Arts, to which he contributed two papers, days when -- a painter and philosopher of sorts -- he was rather a personage than anything else, although he suggested great reserves of wisdom. He obviously knew he was somebody, for "if you are doing the latest thing," Leo Stein wrote in later years, "you can feel at least a little bit important," and the limelight had been turned on him and Gertrude Stein, his sister, because of their unique connection with "modern art." They were close friends of the leaders of the movement in Paris and had even brought Picasso and Matisse together. Having the means to buy their pictures, the Steins had a room to show them in that soon became one of the sights of Paris, where Leo, discovering Cézanne for himself, had bought in 1902 the Cézanne that became the nucleus of their collection. There were as many, first or last, who claimed to have discovered modern art as there were cities that claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, but Leo Stein was no doubt the first, as he said, to recognize that Picasso and Matisse together were "the two important men." While Gertrude, sharing their point of view, tried to write in conjunction with them, endeavoring to parallel in words their effects in paint, Leo Stein, in the rue de Fleurus, expounded the movement to visitors who seldom knew anything outside the official salons. He felt, as he said once, "like a Columbus setting sail for a world beyond the world."

When I saw him in 1917, Gertrude Stein's fame was rapidly growing and Leo Stein merely shared the limelight with her, although he had more or less broken with her -- "disaggregated" himself, as he put it -- and gone to Florence where he was eventually to die. When Picasso entered his cubist phase, Leo Stein had lost interest in him, feeling that cubism was the "intellectual product of the unintellectual," who should "manifest themselves on a merely intelligent plane." Whether he was right or wrong in this, he was nothing himself if not intellectual, while his literary tastes were classical, even severely, so that he could not "take Gertrude seriously as a literary phenomenon" -- he could not, as he . . .

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