Gertrude Stein: "Looking is not vanishing"

Imogen Cunningham, Gertrude Stein, silver print, 1937, printed before 1973. Sold April 4, 2012 for $4,320.

Known as a writer, art collector and host to the innovative, elite and avant-garde, Gertrude Stein created connections between art and literature in her writing and in her home, where she held her famous salon. 

Man Ray, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, silver print, 1922. Sold October 19, 2006 for $12,000. 

Though Stein was known as a great advocate of the arts and has been credited with launching the careers of groundbreaking artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Juan Gris, her own cutting-edge work lacked commercial success during her lifetime. Her dense poems and layered prose were experimental, forgoing chronology and focusing on process, giving her words a distinct sense of motion and spatial awareness.

It was this approach to language that lead Mabel Dodge, a wealthy American patron of the Arts, to compare Stein's linguistic gymnastics to Picasso's cubism, noting,"in a large studio in Paris, hung with paintings by Renoir, Matisse and Picasso, Gertrude Stein is doing with words what Picasso is doing with paint. She is impelling language to induce new states of consciousness, and in doing so language becomes with her a creative art rather than a mirror of history."

Lot 239, Gertrude Stein, Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia, 1912.

Swann's June 17, 2015 auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature includes an association copy of Stein's Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia. Stein penned the portrait after visiting Dodge at her Italian villa. Dodge was so taken with the work that when a publisher could not be found, she paid to have 300 copies printed and bound to distribute. 

Beyond this book's rarity, and the added importance of the personal inscription inside from Stein to American art collector Emily Crane Chadbourne, this work is an excellent example of the fluctuating nature of Stein's prose. The text begins simply and beautifully, "the days are wonderful and the nights are wonderful and the life is pleasant," and proceeds to guide the reader through a natural ebb and flow of contemplation and experience. Stein's writing, as well as her collecting, highlight an attention to detail that asks an audience to notice alongside her, not just through her, since as she notes, "looking is never vanishing."







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