Stein, Leo Daniel 1872-1947
STEIN, Leo Daniel 1872-1947
PERSONAL: Born May 11, 1872, in Allegheny, PA; died of cancer July 29, 1947, near Florence, Italy; son of Daniel (a clothing retailer) and Amelia (Keyser) Stein; married Nina Auzias (a model), March, 1921. Education: Attended University of California; Harvard University, graduated 1895; attended Johns Hopkins University.
CAREER: Author, art critic, and art collector, 1927-47.
The A-B-C of Aesthetics, Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1927.
Appreciation: Painting, Poetry, and Prose, Crown (New York, NY), 1947.
Journey into the Self, Being the Letters, Papers, and Journals of Leo Stein, edited by Edmund Fuller, Crown (New York, NY), 1950.
SIDELIGHTS: Leo Stein collected and publicized modern art out of his Paris apartment along with his sister, avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein. He helped the likes of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse surface. "I was the only person anywhere, so far as I know, who in those early days recognized Picasso and Matisse," he once wrote.
His interest in art and aesthetics evolved from a trip to Europe during which he intended to write a book about Andrea Mantegna, a northern Italian painter and engraver of the Renaissance, however, he never finished that project. After moving to Paris, the apartment Leo and Gertrude Stein shared at 27, rue de Fleurus, became a legendary home to modern art and meeting place for artists, writers, musicians and other intellectuals.
The Steins were the two youngest of five children. Born in Pennsylvania, Stein spent much of his childhood moving with his family around the United States and Europe. He and Gertrude became very close. Intending to be a historian, Stein studied at the University of California and at Harvard, where the noted William James taught him. After giving up history, he tried law and then biology before traveling to Europe.
When he moved to Paris, he intended to become an art collector. He had bought his first modern painting in London the previous year and was eager to buy more. But Stein was not impressed with the contemporary art he saw in Paris until his friend, art connoisseur and consultant Bernard Berenson, introduced him to the work of Paul Cézanne. He bought one of Cézanne's landscapes as well as Matisse's scandalous "La femme au chapeau," a fauvist work that immediately appealed to him. As his collection grew to include works by Pablo Picasso, so too did his friendship with the famous artist. Leo continued to add to the collection with famous artists such as Auguste Renoir, Paul Gaugin, Edouard Manet, Eugene Delacroix, El Greco, Honore Daumier, Felix Vallotton and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
People came from all over to see the Steins' collection. Leo was tour guide and publicist. Patricia Stipe Failing wrote in Dictionary of American Biography, "Stein blossomed as a messianic guide to his collection, aggressively propagandizing both the new art and his opinions about it. Visitors were impressed, irritated, often both, but their numbers and credentials multiplied. The Steins became legend on both sides of the Atlantic."
Stein's oldest brother Michael was involved in purchasing the art, along with Michael's wife, Sarah, and Gertrude. Both Sarah and Gertrude claimed credit for acquiring "La femme au chapeau." Tensions led to a family split; Leo and Gertrude's bitter contest over the Picasso works eventually led to their severed ties. They parted, never to see each other after 1920, when Leo started an affair with model Nina Auzias, whom he married. Stein spent World War I in the United States writing for the New Republic. In 1921 he moved to Settignano, Italy, where he lived his final twenty-six years.
While in Italy, Stein began writing books. His writings mostly drew upon his aesthetic theories, based on his art collecting in Paris. His first book was The A-B-C of Aesthetics. Judith S. Baughman and Virgil Geddes wrote in Dictionary of Literary Biography that this book "was generally not well received or understood by either critics or artists." Stein, disheartened, gave up writing for several years.
Appreciation: Painting, Poetry, and Prose, published after World War II, earned him long-awaited critical praise. Somewhat autobiographical, it recounts his own aesthetic history and development, including his time at the Paris apartment. Stein mixes personal anecdotes with art and literary philosophies. Believing a person reveals himself most through art, he shares opinions of Picasso, Matisse, Pablo Casals and Ambroise Vollard, as well as some unknown painters and a group of wealthy American art collectors. Stein died of cancer in Settignano the same year Appreciation was published.
Three years later, a collection of his writings, Journey into the Self, Being the Letters, Papers, and Journals of Leo Stein, received high praise. These fragments of Stein's writings cover topics such as Stein's mental illness, neurosis, his aesthetic theories and their roots, and his opinions of such modern artists and writers as Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and T. S. Eliot.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brinnin, John Malcolm, The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1959.
Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 4: 1946-1950, Scribner (New York, NY), 1974, pp. 770-771.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980, pp. 373-374.
Dictionary of North American Authors Deceased before 1950, Ryerson Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1951, p. 434.
Saarinen, Aline B., Proud Posessors; The Lives, Times, and Tastes of Some Adventurous American Art Collectors, Random House (New York, NY), 1958.
American Scholar, autumn, 1958, Aline B. Saarinen, "The Steins in Paris," pp. 437-448.
Lost Generation Journal, winter, 1974, Virgil Geddes, "Leo and Gertrude," pp. 16-17.
Publishers Weekly, January 22, 1996, Brenda Brineapple, review of Appreciation: Painting, Poetry, and Prose, p. 64.*