Gertrude Stein—“No one is ahead of his time”

American ex-patriot writer and satirist Gertrude Stein remarked in 1926:

“The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic…No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept… For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling.”  Somewhat following the perception of Gandhi on change—‘first they ignore, then the laugh, then they fight, they you win’—Gertrude Stein realized early on in her life as an avant-garde writer that responding to the energies and impulses of one’s time faces push-backs and negativity.  The notion of reception doesn’t happen until others begin to recognize and accept, then change will be welcomed rather quickly.  Human perceptions are complicated, especially when applied to the arts, creativity, culture, and the whole lot.

What are your thoughts on Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein and the slowness of French society in particular and Western society in general to accept modernism in the Arts?

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906

Felix Vallotton, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1907

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

26 Comments

26 thoughts on “Gertrude Stein—“No one is ahead of his time””

  1. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein is darker and flatter compared to Vallotton’s. But Picasso’s piece still has enough information to read as a figure existing within a space. The colors still make sense. The hands are nicely done and she is still anatomically correct. I suppose it was getting to a point in time where people are realizing that everyone’s perception is different. Its alright to produce things that aren’t coherent within our reality. Its alright if people see that differently as well. The fact that French and Western societies were slow to adapt is normal in my opinion. We are human beings. A lot of us don’t like change and we have gotten too comfortable with certain things in our lives. Once someone proposes to do something different, people naturally fight it. Most of us only respond, but we do not try to understand. Its okay to consider other people’s opinion and point-of-view. But if we take these things too seriously, we automatically kill our creativity and little bit of ourselves. I believe everything eventually becomes acceptable. There will still be some inner conflicts. With more and more open-minded generations coming into existence, I think humanity will be able to progress at a much faster pace.

    Like

  2. I think Picasso’s version of a portrait of Gertrude Stein in comparison to Vallotton’s shows much more human qualities. Even though it doesn’t seem as formally executed in terms of realistic rendering, it contains a lot of emotion in comparison to the classical styles of portrait making. The pose that Gertrude Stein is displayed in is much more relaxed and casual than typical styles of portraiture. The facial features appear much more androgynous than those rendered by Vallotton. Also, Picasso’s version displays Stein looking off to the side, rather than confronting the viewer head on. I think the French and Western societies were so slow to accept this new style of painting because if viewed from a narrow minded standpoint, it may seem as if Picasso was simply not talented enough to execute a realistic portrait; in actuality, Picasso chose to render his subjects in such a way to display more about the person’s character rather than the likeness of their features. Until Picasso was able to speak out about his art and reasons behind his visions, the rest of the world simply thought he was not cut out to be a painter of lifelike portraits.

    Like

  3. “First they ignore, then they laugh, then they fight, then you win”. The way an audience reaction to new art was described by using this Gandhi quote seemed quite appropriate and relevant to today as well as 100 years ago. I think that artists, like bands, celebrities, and all sorts of things, fall victim to great biases that strongly affect the way people see, think, and talk about their art. Whether it be refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of new art forms, or a fear of losing art forms that people identify with, there is always something that gets in the way of an audience viewing or evaluating art objectively. Because of this perspective, I think Gertrude Stein was very insightful to comment on the complex “politics” which take place in the never-ending struggle of making and defining new art. I think that the portrait of Gertrude is interesting because of the context it was made in rather than the actual painting itself. What I think of when I see this is a relationship between two different artists who made art of different genres but together faced the same cycles of rejection, criticism, and acceptance. Stein and Picasso to me were successful because of their ability to ignore the criticism and reluctance of others and focus on making art for the sake of it.

    Like

  4. I think Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein is more true to reality than Vallotton’s. In Vallotton’s, Stein doesn’t look as comfortable. She looks very posed: her body is pointing a certain way while her face looks straight at us, her hands look like they’re fixed on her lap a particular way, and her posture is more upright. In Picasso’s, she looks more relaxed, sitting how she’d probably normally sit, getting support from her hands on her lap, and looks focused on something other than the viewer. I see why Picasso’s portrait might’ve been harder to accept. The French and Western societies might have viewed him as a bad portrait artist. It’s not a normal portrait. The eyes are off and the colors are flatter/more dull. But he painted with his mind. He successfully captured her prominent features and showed her strong presence through this piece.

    Like

  5. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein is an indication of what is to come in his art. The portrait is very realistic and done very well, except for the face. As it was stated in class the face is very reminiscent of a mask. The eyes are very shallow and almost mannequin like, her forehead is a large flat space. However, I see power in this portrait. The face might strike you as unnatural, however the way Picasso did the eyes and the face as a whole really expresses the power that Gertrude Stein had, not only in her life but within the art world. The portrait that Felix Vallotton did, does not impress me. I feel like this portrait does not portray the essence of who Gertrude Stein was. It is very posed and stiff. If you placed these two portraits together without the titles, I would not have known that they were both of the same person. It is crazy that these portraits were only done one year apart. I know that my analysis is biased however because of my affection for Picassos art.
    The slowness of French and Western society to accept modernism in the arts does not surprise me. Society fears what it does not understand. And Gandhi’s quote ‘first they ignore, then they laugh, then they fight, then you win’ really describes the struggle that society goes through to accept change. This is not just in the art world. Society in general is afraid of change, and I think that maybe people fight the change of modernism in the arts so hard because people felt that they could rely on art to stay consistent. At least consistent enough for people to feel safe when experiencing it. You also have to look at what is occurring in the world around the change. When there is a great deal of change going on in society in general, it is understandable that society would grasp on to something that they find safe, such as art. WWI and WWII are perfect examples of that, the world was literally in chaos. Society really seems to only be able to handle so much change at once. But, like Gandhi said, eventually people stop fighting and you win.

    Like

  6. Any change in a society or culture will take time to progress, ESPECIALLY when there are multiple general opinions on something. Modernism during this time was filled with different interpretations and views on what something should look like or even is. Because everyone feels as though their own opinion is important or is valid there cannot be a consensus preventing progression. If Picasso were to create hundreds of portraits such as the one of Stein and in response Vallotton only made a handful the social impressions of art would be geared towards Picasso’s interpretation, making Vallotton less “socially valid”. The primary way to accelerate this process is by reproducing the same view, message, interpretation, etc. until it becomes the “mainstream/popular” view. However, especially during this time of pre-WWI the image of the self became centered around what was favorable in the war for the respective culture/nation.

    Like

  7. I feel as if the acceptance of Modern art or any type of art, in general, is a process because we live in a time of what is popular and appropriate as of now. It’s sort of redundant in a sense that many want to create “the new” or “the next” thing to change society but without the approval of the vast majority that change doesn’t happen until someone notable or relevant has accepted it. Its almost as if that “thing” has to be recognized and accepted as mentioned above for it to become a norm. I think some people are ahead of their time but the validity of what that person is trying to appropriate is just not in the hands of the right person. I feel as if Picasso portrayed a more looser style of Gertrude where it allows you to pay more attention to the mood and how the person is positioned; what message is to be interpreted. While Vallotton gives a more specific look into the feature of the figure and more straightforward sense of presence.

    Like

  8. I feel that Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein shows a lot of expression on her face. To me, it looks as if she is staring off into the distance in deep thought. Comparing Picasso’s portrait to Felix Vallotton’s portrait of Stein; Picasso captures more of the type of person Stein was. It shows how she was an intellectual. She has some emotion showing in her face, while Vallotton’s portrait looks as if she has a serious blank look on her face. I believe that it was so slow for French and Western society to accept modernism in the arts because they probably did not understand the new style and the intention behind it. People probably did not look for the deep meaning, they just saw what was in front of them without thinking deeper.

    Like

  9. Similarly to what I wrote on the post about Vincent Van Gogh, people often fear what they are unfamiliar with. It can still be seen in our society today with topics that were previously considered taboo coming into light and becoming mainstream. I feel as though artists are more open minded to new concepts, or ways of thinking, and that is why it might seem that artists are “ahead of their time” because we are not quick to shut down new trains of thought.

    Like

  10. This is a thing that I have mixed feelings about. I understand that change in things that you are comfortable with can be hard. I don’t want to argue that artists should have just accepted the modernism movement, because change can be a sticky thing. However, when it comes to art, it’s important to let people explore in art. In the 19th and 20th century I can understand them not being sure about it, but in the end it brought something new to the art world. It takes time for people to get use to it, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage in it. The mainstream does not have to be your only stream when it comes to art. It can be easy to follow the main stream, but it can also be hard to stick to what you know.

    Like

  11. Anyone who is familiar with Picasso’s work can tell that his portrayal of Gertrude Stein is more monochrome and figurative than we are use to seeing from him. We are so used to seeing the cubist painter experiment with shapes and color so it’s refreshing to see his rendition of realism. “For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling.” Gertrude Stein points out societies hesitations in accepting new eras of art. These new age art movements usually gain slow momentum before they are fully admired by the general public. Unfortunately, we’ve seen similar situations such as this one but be reassured that the quality of art isn’t measured by its popularity

    Like

  12. I feel as though if a certain way has been in order for some time, it becomes harder to accept because its just what is being used to. In this sense, as Stein puts it ““First they ignore, then they laugh, then they fight, then you win”. Adjustment doesn’t happen overnight, there comes gradual change of acceptance. Of course there comes being ridiculed, but it’s because of something that people are just used to. In the case of the slowness in accepting modernism in the arts, while Picasso’s portrait is painting dark and more stiffer, there is a certain sense of style that is sort of different than what is traditionally seen in most paintings. Compared to Picasso’s, there is that sense of uniqueness that may be hard in Vallotton’s. Because of it being different, I can see the slowness it took to accept it since the style is very different and painted in a way where it might have been mistaken for bad technique and style. Both paintings have captured Stein in their own certain way, it just the matter of two different styles.

    Like

  13. Comparing the two portraits, I think that Picasso’s gives off a different vibe compared to Vallotton’s portrait. Picasso’s portrait gives off a sense of movement and it feels really humanistic. Vallotton’s portrait seems like it would be a photograph but a very still one. I prefer Picasso’s because of the elements used and the vibe that it gives. The image is also seen from a different angle compared to the others and different from usual portraits that are painted.

    Like

  14. The portrait of Gertrude Stein done by Picasso in 1906 is slightly unnerving because of its abrupt change in gaze between both of her eyes, which is not something that realist painters aim for. However, Picasso was stepping so far beyond realism that his life and art were exactly what the modern art culture needed to move into the future. I think that Stein was right to say that no one is ahead of their time, in regards to the artists at least, because only those who are willing to push boundaries will be able to confidently change the game no matter how stubborn society is being. It happened then and still happens now that there are trends in society that one minute are being rejected, then the next minute are being embraced and followed until they burn out. Luckily, Picasso’s genius has stood the test of time and not only did his style flourish as a trend then, it is still inspiring artists today.

    Like

  15. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein has a more realistic and darker tone. Her face seems to be brooding, but also seems lifeless. There’s no light in her eyes and almost seems like a puppet. I like the seriousness of this piece because it makes one question what is the story behind it. She sits leaning over and looks off away from the viewer. In regards to the slowness of the acceptance of modernism, to me it seems normal for people to accept things they don’t understand. Society is like Gandhi says when accepting change it eventually is accepted, but it takes long for that acceptance to shine through. Change for many people is a frightening thing because they don’t know what may happen in the future.

    Like

  16. The resistance to modernism in the Arts is not due to one expression being superior to the other but rather societies lack of understanding that art form. Additionally, I believe society tends to resist change and art is no exception. Comparing Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein to Vallotton is a perfect example. Here you have two portraits that are anatomically correct. Picasso’s portrait has less emphatic lighting, uses darks more sparingly, and has a flatter appearance. Vallatton’s darks and lights contrast more, the lighting is dramatic, and he focuses more on realism. Is one better than the other? No, each is a representation of each person’s perception of Gertrude Stein. French and Western societies hesitance to accept avant-garde art is normal human behavior. It’s something new and exciting but different. It redefines what qualities make art…art.

    Like

  17. If there’s anything I could say about humans, it’s that we are heavily influenced by what other people think. Artist’s works are constantly being judged and it’s as if one person doesn’t like it, then no one else will like it either. But if someone “popular” starts to like it, then all of a sudden everyone else likes it too. Picasso took criticism for his portrayal of Stein because it was painted in a different style than other artists; however, I feel like he is more successful in portraying Stein’s personality than Vallotton. People often don’t like what they don’t understand and Picasso was definitely misunderstood.

    Like

  18. It almost seems that Picasso’s portrayal of Gertrude Stein is made up of simple masses, ready to blend in to one another, perhaps a harbinger to his entry into cubism? When compared to Felix Vallotton’s portrait of Gertrude Stein, they have their similarities, however, Vallotton’s portrait is more along the lines of a classical portrait.

    Like a lot of the movements and artists that we have covered in class I think the reason that modernism was slow to be accepted in French and Western society was mainly to due to the state of the world at the time. Yes, things that are unfamiliar tend to take longer to be accepted, but the state of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century was in such turmoil, I think society was even more hesitant to be accepting of the unfamiliar.

    Like

  19. People fear what they don’t understand. Look at what happened with Van Gogh. During his lifetime people ridiculed his art and wouldn’t accept it. Now, he is one of the most celebrated artists in history. I see the same thing happening with Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein. Vallotton’s painting may be more photo realistic, but it lacks the character and emotion of Picasso’s painting. In Vallotton’s painting, Stein looks very stiff and uncomfortable. It looks as if she was forced to be there. In Picasso’s painting however, she looks more comfortable and natural.

    Like

  20. I think Pablo Picasso’s, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, compared to Felix Vallotton is a perfect example of how Pablo was trying to create something new. While they both have similarities, I appreciate Picasso’s painting a bit more. It’s nice to see a painting that Picasso did where it’s closer to realism as opposed to his familiar Cubist style. I can see why people at the time didn’t appreciate Picasso’s work.

    Like

  21. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein is the workings of Picasso’s own countdown to his time. One issue with Gandhi’s quote is that the “they” needs power in order to make an impact. In cultural matters there is strength in numbers and art must be seen and shared in order to develop momentum. Within this exchange is where one conclude that another is ahead of their time, for how could they have conceived this be more oneself? I think it was slow because of the lack of proper technology. In today’s world, something can make an impact within minutes.

    Like

  22. Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein has Picasso’s own style and feeling of art. There is clearly Picasso’s style and the biggest difference between Felix Vallotton’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein is Vallotton’s portrait is more realistic and human feeling. People, especially in old generation, afraid and fear of new things or changing things. That is how people lived til now and all of the sudden someone wants to change it, people do not understand nor do not want to understand why it should be changed. That is why modernism had long time to be an art- or accepted to be an art. Most people loves realism, and think that is the absolute master piece of the art.

    Like

  23. What interested me most about these two portraits is that the more tradition composition and technique by Felix Vallotton is from 1907, a year after Picasso’s version. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein was made when Cubism was still in its infancy. The painting is very Picasso without needing to be cubist.
    I think slowness to accept moderism in art, at least in North America, is mostly gone. Where I see lack of acceptance in art is when art goes into other societal territories or themes, which have been explored before, but to new depths in modern art, such as sexual violence. The internet changes things, any conceivable piece of art is going to have at least some supporters and haters, but mostly faced with ambivalence.

    Like

  24. I think Picasso painting on Gertrude Stein was dark and realistic. It showed personality and expression of mood. People usually have a hard time accepting what they don’t understand, so the western worlds unacceptance of modernism is a reflection of misunderstanding. The paintings show reality and the growing need to express reality through art. I can only imagine Picasso catching onto this notion and forcing people to accept it by producing works like Gertrude Stein.

    Like

  25. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein illustrates the kind of person that she was. The hands are angled in an informal way and her body is angled towards the viewer showing that she is engaged and shows confidence. This type of portrait of a woman may have been seen as informal and different to some because the standard of most portraits was usually someone sitting straight with hands positioned in the lap, The portraits shown above give off two completely different feels but history has told us that Stein was an engaged and critical person. Picasso achieves this idea with his portrait. Picasso was painting what he thought of Stein, not what he saw.

    Like

  26. I love Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude more than Felix. It shows more a realistic composition of the way a human body is at a relaxed position. Although, it is flat, it still shows some demesion. Her face for example, the eyelids look heavy and her forehead looks almost like it is a part of a mask. Her hands are placed in a non formal way and she isn’t looking directly to the audience. I appreciate a more natural composition over one that looks forced or uncomfortable.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s