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  • Sarah Stein: The Woman Who Brought Matisse to San Francisco:A Memoir: Learning about Art and the Art of Psychoanalysis
  • Stanley Steinberg (bio)


In 1904, Sarah Stein and her husband Michael moved from San Francisco to Paris, where they joined Michael's siblings Leo and Gertrude in the discovery of modern art. Picasso began painting his legendary portrait of Gertrude Stein in 1905, launching a lifelong friendship between the two. Far less known is the central role that Sarah Stein played in the life and career of Matisse. Sarah met Matisse shortly after admiring his scandalous Woman with a Hat at the 1905 Salon d'Automne exhibition. With Michael, she became one of the artist's most ardent patrons—buying his paintings before they were widely appreciated, opening her Left Bank apartment to share her passion for the artist's work, and providing him decades of unwavering personal encouragement and support.

After thirty-one years of living abroad, Sarah and Michael returned to the Bay Area in 1935. Dr. Stanley Steinberg's vivid account of his somewhat unlikely relationship with Sarah, forged when he was a young Stanford student and she a widow more than fifty years his senior, sheds invaluable light on Sarah's character, her interests in the 1940s, and the very special place that she and Matisse held in each other's lives. This publication of Dr. Steinberg's memoir coincides with the major traveling exhibition The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, which reunites and contextualizes the Stein [End Page 517] family's extraordinary art collections. The exhibition is co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (May 21 — September 6, 2011); the Réunion des Musées Nationaux — Grand Palais, Paris (October 5, 2011 — January 16, 2012); and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (February 21 — June 3, 2012).

Janet Bishop, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

In 1942 when a young pre-medical student at Stanford, I met Sarah Stein (1870—1953) the sister-in-law of Leo and Gertrude Stein. She was 72 and I was 19. I came from Fresno, a rural town in California; she had only recently returned from many decades in Paris. In spite of these differences we became good friends. Her powerful collection of the art of Picasso and Matisse was well known to curators, teachers of art, and art historians, but because of her abhorrence of publicity she kept her home a private place, even though there was always easy access for those who cared for the art she had assembled.

Almost seventy years have passed since our first meeting, but the works of art in her collection remain vivid in my memory. When I wish, I can fantasize a walk through her Palo Alto home and remember her fondly and see again in my mind the powerful paintings and sculptures she had assembled.

It was in the late summer when I first drove up to her home. She lived on Kingsley Avenue in Palo Alto, a large home on a wide stretch of lawn, large enough for three spreading oak trees and a side garden filled with tuberous begonia. The house had a California Valley look; two floors, gray shingled exterior with a white portico held up by heavy pillars. Wisteria vines past their bloom hung from the lattice above the door and trailed down the columns. Morris Gutterman, a fellow pre-med student friend who had visited Sarah with the professor of his art class, Daniel Mendelowitz, had arranged the meeting. Because of a family illness, Morris could not visit Sarah that afternoon so I was on my own. I had called Sarah and she had answered herself and invited me to visit her that very Sunday afternoon.

I approached her home with excitement, but fear as well. I rang the doorbell. A woman much shorter than I, in a floor-length [End Page 518] purple dress and lengthy amber necklace, answered the door. She had an extraordinary face—welcoming, yet quizzical and challenging. She took both of my hands into hers and led me into a magical house filled with extraordinary art works of Matisse, Picasso, and...


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