Names such as Picasso and Hemingway are commonly heard and much renowned. In the vastly different areas of visual art and literature these men were leaders and revolutionaries, creating styles that many others either emulated or were deeply influenced by. Though, what is not often spoken about is their humbler origins at a house in Paris, that not only them, but two generations of famous writers, artists, poets, and others came together in and re-imagined the world through. In the Atelier of 27 Rue de Fleurus, a variety of men and women came to discuss ideas and expression and the possibilities of creativity. This was the home of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas.
For two women living openly as a couple in Paris in the early 1900s, their influence was immense. At first Stein was a big supporter for the early modernist painting movement, being somewhat of a benefactress buying many of the works of such painters asezanne, Picasso, Matisse, and many others, and helping to create shows for their works. She encouraged all these artists to pursue the direction they were all navigating into, which eventually became a world-class movement in the arts.
Many years later she was the first to start inviting and guiding a new generation of writers. Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and again, many others, participated in the ‘salons’ that were had at the famous apartment Each were individually influenced not only by the environment created by Stein, but in some cases directly by her. She was one of Hemmingway’s early editors, helping him form his voice. They were very close friends but later in life due to some criticisms that Stein had about Hemmingway, they fell out of sorts.
If only one of these accomplishments was Steins, she would have been an unimaginably important person for her time, let alone, doing it all as a Jewish women in a man’s world. But in her own right, she had an incredible writing career that was massively pioneering and influential during the early modernist period in literature. Whether it is her first novel about lesbian relationships, one of the earliest of its kind, or the experimental ‘stream of consciousness’ style she created for Three Lives, her writing was innovative and imaginary, controversial and way ahead of its time.
In the contemporary western world, these all might seem like relatively normal possibilities for a woman, but at the time there were marked restrictions to the behavior that was acceptable. This makes what she did even more amazing. Normally at public events such as the ‘salons’ men all congregated together and women would be in a separate room. Gertrude Stein always sat in with the men and Alice B. Toklas would be the hostess for the partners of these visitors. This was a radical place for Stein to be and because of it, the world has been blessed by her contributions.
Her influences and ideas, her intention to create a free space for artists and writers to come and speak and think openly, her constant effort to support artists financially and critically, shaped how many experience society today. Thinking back to the fervent innovation Gertrude Stein lived out as a person shows how no matter what the difficulties are, whether personally or all around us, we can succeed and strive towards magnificence.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette
Jonathan M. Bessette lives and works in Vancouver BC where he writes poetry, short fiction, novels, and screenplays. He was the founder and president of The NPODW publishing society for the 5 years it was active and helped publish its journal of the same name. He is currently working on a new sci-fi novel and hopes to finish a pilot episode for a sitcom in 2017. Check out his creative masterpieces at www.jonathanmbessette.com.