Posted: September 17th, 2017


Stein’s portraits are more a portrait of Stein than of any other subject. Do you agree?
Stein was fascinated with portraits. Why? It is certainly not for the reasons that we might think. Portraits were a chosen tool for Stein that allowed her to express a deeper emotion than we might think. Steins portraits were just that: Stein’s portraits. As I will proceed to defend in this paper, Stein found sanctuary in the portrait; she found a way to tell us who she was. Stein’s portraits were indeed a portrait of herself and nothing else. The genius of this camofluage is explained (and defended) herein.
The main objective of art is to relay the creator’s message to a willing, or an unwilling audience. Stein changed this. She was unique in her approach, writing and portraying for herself as much as she was for others. This approach to writing made its way into Stein’s portraits, thus answering the question of Stein’s motives within the portraits she produced. Yes, Stein’s portraits are more a portrait of Stein than of any other subject. And, for personal reasons,

Art is hard to create. It comes in many forms, to release it.She reflects a hidden pain in her works that is camouflaged. She was able to express her art without compromising her message, so in many ways, Stein wrote for herself and she portrayed for herself and of herself.
The portraits of Stein were repetitive, familiar and had a common strong [1, 3]. What genius! . She created for herself, while “allowing” outsiders to enjoy this art. Stein’s hands. In several drawings, the left hand rests on the left upper leg, thumb pointing out, finger’s tight; a sign of her need for stability, a yearning for clarity in life. This is not an exaggeration. She repeats the yearning for stability in all of her other works, using the subject as an extension of the canvas and of the page.

Stein’s early beginning inform us of her emotional foundations [1, 2, and 4]. Her move from the United States to Paris was not, in my view, by choice. She wanted to release herself of the changing cultural styles of art prevalent at that time and move to the artistic hub of Paris, knowing that stability defined the cultural scene, and still does, in that city. Paris was a way for Stein to exercise her desire for clarity in life. She could not find her true identify in Baltimore. Her non-completion of a medical degree, her consistent, warm, yet un-formalised relationship with Alice Toklas were all signs of a human being expressing her desire for stability; for understanding, that could only be found through art. Gertrude wanted routine- her routine, but the rest of the world did not understand this.
Did Stein draw herself when creating portraits of others? Yes. Why she die this can be the subject of speculation, but how she did this was nothing short of artistic genius. He works are deep, very deep. In them she emphasises similar patterns, while denying that her motif is repetition. When asked about this, she replies: “Is there repetition or is there insistence> But repetition is almost in the eye of the beholder, in my view. Stein’s insistence is my repetition, but it is a unique, deep form of repetition that has made me fall in love with her work.

Stein defines “masterpieces” in her 1936 essay “what are masterpieces and why are there so few of them”. In this essay, she offers distinct properties that relate to the production of masterpieces. “In the masterpiece, language functions as an entity, rather than identity”. This supports my argument that Stein’s portraits are of herself, because The appreciation of the work for its artistry is a side effect; one that Stein doesn’t care about. He works are for her to express her emotions and if we happen to enjoy the works, then this is a neutral side effect of her reasons for undertaking this work. It is almost as if by enjoying Stein’s portraits that we are acknowledging how well she has expressed her own issues. This is articulate and adds to the weight of Stein’s works [5].

Stein reflects a lot of what the developments of the late nineteenth century were like culturally. It must have been a challenge for creative’s at that time, because society flattened cultural hierarchies. The art became a mass culture. For many artists, this would have been a major block in their creativity, but cultural change assisted Stein in her later works. Stein believes in consistency, in routine and in form. if Stein’s works were completed 15-20 years earlier than they actually were, this would have caused negative responses from a hierarchical, non-formatted audience. The fact that the mid nineteenth century created room for conformists enabled Stein, in my view, to deploy her view of the portrait. This was fertile ground for a woman trapped in her creativity. Stein had a range of complex issues all competing for attention and she found the repetitive nature of (her) portraits a release valve for that pressure.

Stein experimented with novels and with drama, but these forms of art did not seem to lend themselves to Stein’s focal point: Portraits that allow her to conform, to “patternise” and to neatly organise her emotions again and again. It must have been liberating for her to do this over and over; to experience the high of releasing her emotions with such repetition.

Stein gave us portraits of herself disguised as portraits of other topics. This is a justification of her arts true creativity. Like a magician, she eluded us into interpreting her work in any way we like, while she experienced the content of being able to consistently tell us who she was. If there is a win-win in artistic terms, this must be it.
[1] Stein, G. (2000). The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Modern library.
[2] Stein, G. (1935). Lectures in America. Boston: Beacon Press.
[3] Bridgman, R. (1971). Gertrude Stein in Pieces. Oxford University Press, USA.
[4] Walker, J. L. (1984). The Making of a Modernist: Gertrude Stein from Three Lives to Tender Buttons. Univ of Massachusetts Pr.
[5] Van Dusen, W. (1996). Portrait of a National Fetish: Gertrude Stein’s” Introduction to the Speeches of MarichalPitain”(1942). Modernism/modernity, 3(3), 69-92.

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