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Gertrude at 27

April 25th, 2009

Daniel Pontius

Gertrude and Alice at 27 in 1930.

“…she was positively, richly attractive in her grand ampleur. She always seemed to like her own fat anyway and that usually helps other people to accept it. She had none of the funny embarrassment Anglo-Saxons have about the flesh. She gloried in hers.” Mable Dodge on Gertrude Stein.

When all is tedious and nothing, beyond Susan Boyle, has sparked my imagination (although she too has begun to wane) I shall look to the great St. Gertrude.

In 1933 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was published which made Miss. Stein famous especially in America where it was a best seller. After having spent most of her adult life in Paris, Gertrude took her first trip back to the states with Alice to go on a lecture tour having been gone for 30 years. It was 1934.

Gertrude loved the monotony of the everyday. She liked daily habits, walks around Paris, and loved her Standard Poodle, Basket. She liked Basket so much in fact that when Basket died, Basket II arrived, soon after. In this first photo we see Alice and Gertrude sitting in their salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus. A domestic scene, a photo that is my reference for when I hear the term “salon style” used as it relates to the arrangement of art.

There are a handful of Cecil Beaton photos at the National Portrait Gallery. Since they will only allow their use for a fee, you will have to see the photographs on your your own: links one and two.

In image ONE we see Gertrude and Alice and their Standard Poodle, Basket. This photo is taken in 1936. We know this is Basket because he died in 1937 after which came Basket II. We imagine Gertrude not wanting to have to switch from, “Come Basket!” on her way out the door.

The room is lofty. A fireplace off to the side. Gertrude is captured with her hand on Basket as if to get him to behave, to sit. Alice looks on slightly amused perhaps at Basket misbehaving. There are four paintings vertical in the background, a bowl in the forground, could it be called a “tiered tazza” perhaps just a scalloped bowl with handle, ready to be picked up with the offer of nuts. The room is spare, as if they have yet to unpack, as if they have just moved and Alice has just made it tidy for the photo.

In image TWO we see Gertrude looking gruff. Did they put Basket in the other room? Note that the door is now shut. Alice is gently in the background, smiling and gazing over to Gertrude. There is a fantastic lamp with a wonderfully oversized lampshade in a diamond pattern that feels like Bloomsbury, the Omega Workshop. There is another scallop motif this time a planter on the desk next to the lamp.

This is a richer home than the salon at 27. The grand rolled arm sofa–large enough to hold Ms. Stein in what looks like a strie velvet. But they both appear as if they are just borrowing the room, and a bit uncomfortable, as if it is a hotel. But the art seems like theirs although I do not know the nude in the background.

It makes me wonder if the photo was mislabeled, that this is perhaps 1937, after Basket died and after their landlord refused to renew the lease at 27 and they moved to an apartment on Germain. Perhaps it is 1937, if it is, they won’t have been here long, they will spend the Second World War, at their country house in Bilignin.


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  1. April 25, 2009

    If you open up the links to photos in a new window, you don’t have issues on going back to the previous page, which because the address link through blogger, it does not let you do. You, Dear Reader, may have already figured this out, but some of us are a bit slower.

  2. Anonymous #
    May 20, 2009

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  3. May 20, 2009

    I’m certain you are right. I would lose interest as well! But thank you for your enthusiasm and I will get right on it!

  4. Anonymous #
    May 23, 2009

    Excellent new post. And congratulations on being more vigilant with your glorious site!

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