IotD: The Unexpected Collaboration of Alice B. Toklas and Picasso

Needlepoint might not be what most think of when they think of modernist art, but we’ve actually featured it here before. Below are two examples of Alice B. Toklas’s needlepoint, taken from designs by Pablo Picasso.

alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chairsalice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 1alice b toklas picasso needlepoint chair 2

Juliet Clark from SFMOMA has a really nice write-up that prominently features these two chairs, including a lengthy excerpt from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that relates the series of events that led to their creation.

The two chairs, before Toklas transformed them, can actually be glimpsed in the famous Man Ray portrait of the two women in their shared home at 27, rue de Fleurus (Alice is sitting in one of them):

man ray portrait stein toklas

Yet another reason to (re)consider Toklas as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Provenance:

Alice B. Toklas (from a design by Pablo Picasso)
Two armchairs, fabric and wood
Source: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Man Ray, c. 1922
Gelatin silver print
Source: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

 

scholarship

I finally got around to posting a sample of my academic work over at Academia.edu. The paper is “I Like Detectiving Almost as Much as Writing:” Detectives Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the Work of Samuel M. Steward,” a very well-received conference paper I presented during “The Other Detective II” panel at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) conference in San Diego, November 1, 2013.

The paper was a response to a short passage in Justin Spring’s magisterial biography Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo, and Sexual Renegade (2010):

“At the suggestion of Michael Denneny, a pioneering gay editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York, Steward then set to work on a series of mystery novels featuring Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas as sleuths. The writing of these light entertainments would take up the final years of Steward’s life, with Murder is Murder is Murder published in 1985 and The Caravaggio Shawl in 1989, but they were disappointing works of fiction, weakly plotted and of little value even to those interested in the lives of Stein and Toklas” (397).

I read both of these novels and found them quite delightful, and was rather stunned by Spring’s complete dismissal of their value. This was my attempt to understand what I found so interesting, compelling–and ultimately quite resonant–about these so-called “disappointing works of fiction.”

The paper can be found here, and my Academia.edu profile here.
Steward - Caravaggio ShawlSteward - Murder is Murder is Murder

What’s Here/Queer/Modernist: Weekly Reads #2

Here’s what here/queer/modernist out in the world [wide web]:

Stein Van Vechten Toklas

Gertrude Stein, Carl Van Vechten, & Alice B. Toklas, January 4, 1935.

Well, it certainly seems to have been a very Carl Van Vechten week. Not everyone might be pleased with the latest Edward White biography, but it has certainly seemed to spark a lot of reinterest in his life and his work. Here’s a rundown of some CVV things that appeared this last week:

Most substantial was White’s long essay for The Paris Review, which specifically focuses on his relationship with Gertrude Stein: “Stein knew how crucial Van Vechten was to her career—not merely in the practical aspects of getting her work into print, read, and discussed, but in helping create and disseminate the mythology that surrounds her name. ‘I always wanted to be historical, almost from a baby on,’ Stein freely admitted toward the end of her life. ‘Carl was one of the earliest ones that made me be certain that I was going to be.’”

Two things I never expected to have to write in the same sentence: Carl Van Vechten made an appearance on Craigslist this last week. Here in San Francisco first edition copies of Music and Bad Manners (1916) and Interpreters and Interpretations (1917), owned by the same family for nearly a century, showed up on the popular classifieds website. Place in the “if I had a spare $600 just lying around…” file.

“Carl Van Vechten: Photographer to the Stars” is an exhibition opening this week at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the local museum of CVV’s hometown. It features a collection of photographs that CVV himself donated to the museum in 1946 and which was later augmented by his estate, and runs through September 7.Van Vechten Photographer of the Stars

This spotlight topic at glbtq.org this month is the Harlem Renaissance, which features a number of queer modernist luminaries, including Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Countee Cullen, and, of course Van Vechten himself. Why Richard Bruce Nugent, the most overtly out of this circle doesn’t have his own page at this point, however, remains something of a mystery.

ALSO:

lunch poems o'haraCity Light Books will be publishing a 50th anniversary edition of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, which was first published in 1964 as part of the publisher’s famous Pocket Poet Series. The new edition will feature a forward by O’Hara’s friend, the poet John Ashbury. The also point to a feature over at The Atlantic regarding the collection, as well as a reading of the entire book taking place in New York City on June 11.

Modernist Cultures has just released their May 2014 issue, with a focus on modernism and dance. Featuring Nijinsky (of course), Josephine Baker, Pavlova, Massine, etc, etc.–can’t wait to dive into this! (Not sure what the access issues are, email me if you’re having issues.)

An essay titled “Kleist’s Cycle of Consciousness: Modeling Identity in Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood by Karen Lively has been posted by The California Journal of Women Writers, a publication I clearly need to start paying attention to.

What did I miss? Please let me know!

IotD: Rejecting Gertrude Stein

I had read this infamous 1912 rejection letter of Stein’s The Making of Americans but never seen an actual image of it. A recent event hosted by the Studio 360 blog staged readings of rejection letters sent to famous writers, including this one:

Gertrude Stein Rejection LetterClever, rather cruel, and more than a bit bitchy, I’d say! You can listen to the readings here, and  transcription and more detailed information about the letter itself can be found at the Letters of Note website.

IotD: Francis Rose Depicts Stein & Toklas at Home

stein & toklas - sir francis rose

stein and toklas - sir francis rose

Sir Francis Cyril Rose was a titled British painter that Gertrude Stein patronized throughout the 1930’s, but despite her best efforts she was never able to generate much sustained interest in his work and he remains an obscure figure of the era.

And while Rose is certainly no Picasso or even a Matisse, there’s a quality to his art that more immediately compels than the work of either of those more famous artists. I particularly like how he is able to evoke a sense of comfortable queer domesticity at 27 rue de Fleurus, with as much emphasis on Toklas and their beloved dogs as on her famous modern art collection. The Stein glimpsed here is certainly a far cry from, say, the imperious sibyl immortalized by Picasso some twenty years before.

I did a fair amount of research on Rose several years ago in conjunction with a paper I wrote on Samuel M. Steward, and truly, there are aspects of Rose’s life that are stranger than fiction. I’ll have to write up some more information on this curious figure sooner than later.

Provenance

TOP: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Tempera and gouache on cardboard
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

BOTTOM: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1939)
Sir Francis Cyril Rose
Gouache on paper
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

 

What’s Here/Queer/Modernist: Weekly Reads #1

Several of the blogs I regularly read present a weekly–or at least occasional–list of items of interest on the web, and I thought I’d follow suit. Also, I thought this would be a good place to include information on events that aren’t specifically or solely related to queer modernism, but would be of interest to anybody in And if you have any leads on material of interest, please let me know in the comments section!

So here’s what here/queer/modernist out in the world [wide web]:

The Quill Cover - Clara TiceBand of Thebes reminded me that I missed Lincoln Kirstein’s birthday last week, on May 4. Shame on me, but luckily he was there with a celebratory post.

Bookplate Junkie shares a flea market discovery: an October 1919 copy of The QuillA Magazine of Greenwich Village. The issue is dedicated to illustrator Clara Tice, who has a wonderful Beardsley-meets-Djuna Barnes quality. True to form, he also includes some bookplate examples of Tice’s work.

“A bio represents a selection of facts. But, as Nancy Mitford argues, ‘It should not be a mere collection of facts.'” Sketchbook reviews the new Carl Van Vechten biography by Edward White over at Goodreads, and he is not particularly impressed with it (and that’s more than a bit of an understatement).

“As a lesbian writer, even as one who has known many interesting people, I have very little in common with [Edmund] White.”  A skeptical Janet Mason takes on–and is ultimately won over by–White’s latest, Inside a Pearl, My Years in Paris.

In “how did I miss this?!” news, here in San Francisco there was a commemoration of the centennial of the publication of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, which also promoted the release of Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition, published by the iconic City Lights Books. Happily, audio of the event has been made available for those of us who missed it.

Speaking of Stein, Poets.org has shared some archival footage of the great iconoclast.

I don’t think that Susan Sontag was a great film critic; to hear her tell it, she wasn’t really a critic at all. But it’s still hard to overestimate her importance as an American writer in relation to movies.” Jonathan Rosenbaum has posted his remembrance of Sontag written after her passing in 2005.

The Ezra Pound Society has announced that they have a new virtual home.

EVENTS OF INTEREST

blast-at-100 event posterJust another reminder that the H.D., Jean Epstein, and Queer Modernism, Spectatorship, and The Specimen lecture(s) are coming up this Friday (05/16/14) at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York. I wrote up the event here, and the actual event page can be found here.

Trinity College is hosting a “Blast at 100” this summer to commemorate the Vorticist literary magazine, and just announced their plenary speakers for the event. Details and registration can be found here.

 

 

IotD: Soirée by Florine Stettheimer

fssoiree

Before I get too far along, I thought I should specify the painting that serves as the main avatar for this blog: Florine Stettheimer’s Soirée (1917-19), also sometimes known as Studio Party. I’ve long been entranced by Stetteimer’s witty and whimsical sensibility, and when it came to select an image that would best encapsulate the intentions of this blog, her paintings seemed a somewhat inevitable choice. I’m consistently dazzled with how she utilizes minute but sharply observed details to embed narratives within her images, and she’s at her best when depicting groups of individuals interacting with each other within a specific space. A number of her paintings capture this dynamic, but Soirée is my very favorite of them all.

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

Florine Stettheimer c. 1917-20

“Queer modernism” is a necessarily ambiguous term that defies precise definition or categorization, but the overriding dynamic I constantly return to is the emphasis on connection and collaboration. The individuals I generally consider “queer modernists” seemed to actively and intentionally construct extensive relational networks (both professional and often personal in nature), and what is consistently thrilling about studying these figures is how they all seemed to know each other in some way. Queers often served as the key conduits for the promotion of modernist art, and many (most?) of the great, storied salons of the modernist era were held by figures that were queer: Stein and Toklas at 27 rue de Fleurus, Natalie Barney’s Académie des femmes, Carl Van Vechten’s racially desegregated house parties, etc, etc–and while the salon of the three Stettheimer Sisters, the subject of this particular painting, is not as well known today as those three gatherings, it functioned as a vital site of queer modernist expression as well.

I have a number of Stettheimer-related images and material lined up for future “Image of the Day” and other types of posts, but until then the excellent art-oriented blog Venetian Red has a wonderful post on Stettheimer that serves as a nice overview or introduction to the artist, and features a number of high-quality images of her paintings, something which is absolutely essentially to fully appreciate their intricacies and keen visual wit.

Provenance

Soirée (1917-19)
Florine Stettheimer
Oil on Canvas
Yale University Art Gallery
Gift of Joseph Solomon from the estate of Florine Stettheimer

Info Source: Yale Digital Content; Image Source: Venetian Red