Gertrude Stein – The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933

Ambroise_Vollard,_standing_in_front_of_Picasso's_Evocación._El_entierro_de_CasagemasChapter 3 – GERTRUDE STEIN IN PARIS

1903-1907

During Gertrude Stein’s last two years at the Medical Schools Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, 1900-1903, her brother was living in Florence. There he heard of a painter named Cézanne and saw paintings by him owned by Charles Loeser. When he and his sister made their home in Paris the following year they went to Vollard’s the only picture dealer who had Cézannes for sale, to look at them.

Vollard was a huge dark man who lisped a little. His shop was on the rue Laffitte not far from the boulevard. Further along this short street was Durand-Ruel and still further on almost at the church of the Martyrs was Sagot the ex-clown. Higher up in Montmartre on the rue Victor-Masse was Mademoiselle Weill who sold a mixture of pictures, books and bric-a-brac and in entirely another part of Paris on the rue Faubourg-Saint-Honore was the ex-café keeper and photographer Druet. Also on the rue Laffitte was the confectioner Fouquet where one could console oneself with delicious honey cakes and nut candies and once in a while instead of a picture buy oneself strawberry jam in a glass bowl.

The first visit to Vollard has left an indelible impression on Gertrude Stein. It was an incredible place. It did not look like a picture gallery. Inside there were a couple of canvases turned to the wall, in one corner was a small pile of big and little canvases thrown pell mell on top of one another, in the centre of the room stood a huge dark man glooming. This was Vollard cheerful. When he was really cheerless he put his huge frame against the glass door that led to the street, his arms above his head, his hands on each upper corner of the portal and gloomed darkly into the street. Nobody thought then of trying to come in.

They asked to see Cézannes. He looked less gloomy and became quite polite. As they found out afterward Cézanne was the great romance of Vollard’s life. The name Cézanne was to him a magic word. He had first learned about Cézanne from Pissarro the painter. Pissarro indeed was the man from whom all the early Cézanne lovers heard about Cézanne. Cézanne at that time was living gloomy and embittered at Aix-en-Provence. Pissarro told Vollard about him, told Fabry, a Florentine, who told Loeser, told Picabia, in fact told everybody who knew about Cézanne at that time.

There were Cézannes to be seen at Vollard’s. Later on Gertrude Stein wrote a poem called Vollard and Cézanne, and Henry McBride printed it in the New York Sun. This was the first fugitive piece of Gertrude Stein’s to be so printed and it gave both her and Vollard a great deal of pleasure. Later on when Vollard wrote his book about Cézanne, Vollard at Gertrude Stein’s suggestion sent a copy of the book to Henry McBride. She told Vollard that a whole page of one of New York’s big daily papers would be devoted to his book. He did not believe it possible, nothing like that had ever happened to anybody in Paris. It did happen and he was deeply moved and unspeakably content. But to return to that first visit.

They told Monsieur Vollard they wanted to see some Cézanne landscapes, they had been sent to him by Mr. Loeser of Florence. Oh yes, said Vollard looking quite cheerful and he began moving about the room, finally he disappeared behind a partition in the back and was heard heavily mounting the steps. After a quite long wait he came down again and had in his hand a tiny picture of an apple with most of the canvas unpainted. They all looked at this thoroughly, then they said, yes but you see what we wanted to see was a landscape. Ah yes, sighed Vollard and he looked even more cheerful, after a moment he again disappeared and this time came back with a painting of a back, it was a beautiful painting there is no doubt about that but the brother and sister were not yet up to a full appreciation of Cézanne nudes and so they returned to the attack. They wanted to see a landscape. This time after even a longer wait he came back with a very large canvas and a very little fragment of a landscape painted on it. Yes that was it, they said, a landscape but what they wanted was a smaller canvas but one all covered. They said, they thought they would like to see one like that. By this time the early winter evening of Paris was closing in and just at this moment a very aged charwoman came down the same back stairs, mumbled, boa soir monsieur et madame, and quietly went out of the door, after a moment another old charwoman came down the same stairs, murmured, bon soir messieurs et mesdames and went quietly out of the door. Gertrude Stein began to laugh and said to her brother, it is all nonsense, there is no Cézanne. Vollard goes upstairs and tells these old women what to paint and he does not understand us and they do not understand him and they paint something and he brings it down and it is a Cézanne. They both began to laugh uncontrollably. Then they recovered and once more explained about the landscape. They said what they wanted was one of those marvellously yellow sunny Aix landscapes of which Loeser had several examples. Once more Vollard Went off and this time he came back with a wonderful small green landscape. It was lovely, it covered all the canvas, it did not cost much and they bought it. Later on Vollard explained to every one that he had been visited by two crazy americans and they laughed and he had been much annoyed but gradually he found out that when they laughed most they usually bought something so of course he waited for them to laugh.

From that time on they went to Vollard’s all the time. They had soon the privilege of upsetting his piles of canvases and finding what they liked in the heap. They bought a tiny little Daumier, head of an old woman. They began to take an interest in Cézanne nudes and they finally bought two tiny canvases of nude groups. They found a very very small Manet painted in black and white with Forain in the foreground and bought it, they found two tiny little Renoirs. They frequently bought in twos because one of them usually liked one more than the other one did, and so the year wore on. In the spring Vollard announced a show of Gauguin and they for the first time saw some Gauguins. They were rather awful but they finally liked them, and bought two Gauguins. Gertrude Stein liked his sun-flowers but not his figures and her brother preferred the figures. It sounds like a great deal now but in those days these things did not cost much. And so the winter went on.

Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933

Published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1933.

image: Paul Cézanne, 1898–1900, Bathers, 1898-1900; Oil On Canvas; 10 5/8 x 18 1/8. Baltimore Museum of Art

image: Ambroise Vollard, 1866-1939. Standing in front of Picasso, Evocación. El entierro de Casagema (Funeral at Casegamas), 1901.

Editor’s Note: Although described as a novel, it is an autobiography of Gertrude Stein’s life narrated through the external voice of her companion Alice B.Toklas. It is, however, a personal eye-witness account of people she met while in Paris between 1903-1907. This relates meetings with artists, including Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Apollinaire, and the purchase of paintings by Paul Cézanne from the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Virgil Thompson, who wrote music to Stein’s lyrics considered the book “in every way except actual authorship Alice Toklas’s book; it reflects her mind, her language, her private view of Gertrude, also her unique narrative powers. Every story in it is told as Alice herself had always told it…. Every story that ever came into the house eventually got told in Alice’s way, and this was its definitive version.” Leo Stein described it as a farrago of lies”.

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Neẓāmi Ganjavi – Haft Peykar, 1197 AD (The Seven Portraits)

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Bahram_Gur_Visits_the_Dome_of_Piruza_on_Wednesday_Page_from_the_Haft_paykar_from_a_manuscript_of_the_Khamsa_of_Nizami

Bahrām finds the picture of the Seven (FairFaces in Khavarnaq.

The prince one day arriving from the plain, was walking through Khavarnaq gay of mood.
He saw a secret room with fastened door, which by the keeper had been overlooked.
The prince had not set foot within that room, nor had the courtiers or custodians.
He said, Why is this room locked up, and where the keeper of it; where too is the key?
The keeper came (and) gave the prince the key. The prince unlocked the door and saw the room.
A room saw? Nay, a treasure-house, through which the gazer’s eyes would dealers be in gems.
The pictures of that fine abode of art excelled a hundred Chinese picture-rooms.
They on the walls of that apartment showed all that the finest workmanship could show.
In it were finely painted seven forms, each one connected with a certain Clime:
Fūrak, of India’s Rājā daughter, first, in face more lovely than the moon when full.
(Then) Yaghmā-Nāz, the Khāqān’s daughter fair, disturber of Tarāz and China’s belles.
The king of Khvārazm’s daughter Nāz-Parī, graceful as mountain-partridge in her gait.
The king of Saqlāb’s daughter Nasrīn-Nūsh, a Turk of Greek dress decked by Chinese art.
The king of Maghrib’s daughter Āẕar-Gūn, a sun like to the daily waxing moon.
The wisdom-gifted Qaiṣar’s daughter, next, august, and named Humāy, Bird August.
The Kisrá’s daughter of Kā’ūs’s race, named Dursitī, and ḥūrī-like in grace.
Within one circle by a cord hung up these seven had been all together limned.
In each of them were countless beauties (seen) to light the essence of the light of sight.
A face was limned so handsome in the midst that ’twas as kernel, whilst the rest were shell.
A parrot on his sugar plumes had dropped, and “galia” o’er his moon had drawn a line.
His head exalted like a cypress’s; his crown was (formed) of silver, gold, and gems.
Towards him were turned these seven beauties’ eyes; each one had given her heart to love of him.
He giving to those beauties pleasant smiles; they all before him (as) devoted slaves.
The painter of his face and form had writ above his head the name of Bahrām Gūr;(Adding), Such is the Seven Planets’ rule that this world-conqueror, when he appears,
Shall take like precious pearls unto his breast seven monarchs’ daughters from the Seven Climes.
We have not sown this seed (know) of ourselves; we’ve written what the planets have declared.
Twas writ, I’ve spoken, that he might observe the formula, but God it is who acts.
Prince Bahrām having read this strange account, remained in wonder at the heavens’ spells.
The love of those fair girls (in picture seen) completely and entirely filled his heart.
Libidine percitis equabus et equo vehementia rapto; a lion-like young man and seven brides—
Should not desire to gain one’s wish be great? Should not the heart cry out to gain its aim?
Although that formula made fierce attack, his joy (at once) increased a hundredfold,
Since it ensured a long and happy life, and gave him hope of gaining his desire.—
For the conciliation of a man all that which makes him hopeful has effect.—
When the prince left the room he locked it up, and gave the key to its custodian.
He said, If I should hear that anyone (dare) for a moment (to) unlock this door,
I’ll have his blood shed even in this room: I’ll have his head suspended from his neck.
In all the household, man or woman, none (dared ever) give a glance towards that room.
From time to time when overcome with love, the prince went towards that door (with) key in hand.
The door he opened, entered paradise, and on those finely painted pictures gazed.
Before the water there like one athirst, in longing for it he would fall asleep.
Whilst he was out his wish was for the chase, that room, on his return, his solacer.

Neẓāmi Ganjavi,1141-1209 Haft Peykar, 1197 AD (The Seven Portraits)

Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties) containing the life and adventures of King Bahrām Gūr and the seven stories told him by his seven queens by Nizami of Ganja (Neẓāmi Ganjavi) Translated from the Persian by C.E. Wilson.

Editor’s Note: The Haft Peykar‎‎ or, The Seven Beauties, is also known as Bahramnameh  (The Book of Bahrām). Haft Peykar can be translated literally as ‘seven portraits’ with the figurative meaning of seven beauties. It tells the story of a Prince, later King Bahrām, and his pursuits of hunting, love, and other adventures in 4367 (or 5136) rhyming couplets. The story of a Prince enraptured by the portraits of the Princesses is a bride-show topos, a custom of Byzantine emperors, where the hero chooses a wife from among the most beautiful maidens of the country. The setting is widely found in traditional folk-tales and myths including Sanskrit, Indian, Icelandic, Middle english, Medieval Latin, Danish, Breton, German, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese. The topos occurs in the story of Ibrahim and Jamileh in the Thousand and One Nights, where the son of Egypt’s vizier sees a portrait of a woman in a book and is so infatuated he is unable to eat or sleep. The topos appears in other works by Neẓāmi Ganjavi in Sharaf-namah (a part of Iskandar-nameh) where the Persian Queen, Nushabah, is passionately in love with a likeness of Alexander the Great. While in the story of Khusraw and Shirin, the Armenian Queen Shirin is so obsessed by a portrait of Khusraw that she holds it and quivers so that her maidens are afraid for her, and so they destroy the image. She snatches another picture and worships it like an idol. The erotic and emotional power of the picture was popular, in spite of Islamic and Christian strictures against human images.

In this episode Bahrām wanders around Khavarnaq castle where he finds a secret room. Inside he finds seven portraits, of the daughters of the Kings of India, Byzantium, Chorasmia, Sclavonia, Maghreb, China and Persia, who serendipitously all look devotedly at a portrait of Bahr that hangs on the wall. The Prince falls in love with the images and returns often to the room where he “entered paradise, and on those finely painted pictures gazed. Before the water there like one athirst”. Once he becomes King he seeks the seven princesses and wins them as his brides. He orders his architect to construct seven domes to house his new wives. The craftsman tells him that each of the climes is ruled by one of the seven planets and advises him to assure his good fortune by adorning each dome with the color associated with the clime and planet of its occupant. The king is at first sceptical but eventually lets the architect have his way. The princesses take up residence in the splendid pavilions. The king visits each princess on successive days of the week: on Saturday the Indian princess, who is governed by Saturn, in the black dome, on Sunday the Greek princess, who is governed by the sun, in the yellow dome, and so on. Each princess regales the king with a story matching the mood of her respective colour. These seven beautifully constructed, highly sensuous stories occupy about half of the whole poem. Source: http://www.iranicaonline.org

Images:
1. Bahr and the Indian Princess in the Black Pavilion. llustrated folio from a manuscript of the Khamsa (Haft Paykar) by Nizami. Persian, Safavid period, Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, 40.2 x 26.2 cm, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
2. Bahr Visits the White Domed Pavilion. Persian. Part of Khamsa of Nizami, Haft Paykar Seven Portraits, Manuscript. 1560. Cleveland Museum of Art
3. Bahr Visits the Dome of Piruza on Wednesday. Page from the Haft Paykar, from a manuscript of Nizanmi, Brooklyn Museum
4. Bahr sees the portraits of the seven beauties. Behzad School, 1479. Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature