Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If I Told Him Would He Like It

Picasso’s l906 portrait of Gertrude Stein hanging in the current Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso…the Stein Family show at the Grand Palais is one of the iconic portraits of the modern era. Is there any basis for comparison to another, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa also known as La Gioconda which is one of the great masterpieces of all time. Many commentators have remarked upon the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile. Stein isn’t smiling in the Picasso portrait, but her expression is enigmatic. Her stare is piercing, the epitome of determination. Yet there is also something inscrutable about it, as if all her resolve were mitigated by something clever, sly, almost uncanny.  It’s not that she’s seductive, but there’s something imperturbable and magnetic about her. Apparently at one point during the creation of the work,  Picasso eliminated Stein's face entirely, saying “I can’t see you anymore when I look.” Stein was a collector, an acquirer, but she was also intellectually acquisitive and while Picasso was studying her, the energy was undoubtedly travelling in the opposite direction too. Picasso often painted his former mistresses, with the representations existing like the heads of stags on the wall a hunter’s lodge. But as the author of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas wasn’t Stein collecting too? Was Picasso’s famous comment a reflection of his fear of being swallowed up by his subject’s inertial force? The portrait of Gertrude Stein is what survives, but can we speculate that the reason for Picasso’s ceasing his work was his realization that though he was doing the painting, he himself was also a subject and not only her? "If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him" was how Stein began her poetic portrait of Picasso. 

1 comment:

  1. Francis,
    I just did this with my class--we listened to Stein read her portrait and the students viewed Picasso's portrait of Stein.
    Have you seen the dance piece by Nederland's Dance Theatre based on this text? It's really a lot of fun:


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