I saw the documentary and read the book both titled “Paris Was a Woman” by Andrea Weiss about ten years ago. It was at that point that I fell in love with the Left Bank.
With The First Center for the Visual Arts current offering “Matisse, Picasso, and the School of Paris: Masterpieces from the Baltimore Museum of Art,” I am again transported to Parisian culture in the first quarter of the 20th century.
The collection, sponsored by The HCA Foundation and First Tennessee, includes 64 paintings, sculptures and works on paper from the Baltimore Museum of Art’s collection. Many of the pieces come from sisters Etta and Clarabel Cone who were good friends with Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo. They lived in the same neighborhoods in Paris and introduced each other to the working artists that they became valued patrons of.
Gerturde’s partner, Alice B. Toklas is not mentioned in the exhibit but was an important and vital part of the salon society after the Cone sisters left. Many have written that Alice’s cooking was most admired, and she did publish a cookbook. Love of literature was an important part of the culture. When the French Adrienne Monnier and American Sylvia Beach’s bookshops and lending libraries, La Maison des Amis des Livres and Shakespeare and Co. were starting, Stein and Toklas set out to help advertise by circulating advertisements. In Weiss’s book she quotes Sylvia, “Not long after I had opened my bookshop, two women came. One of them, with a very fine face, was stout, wore a long robe, and on her head, a most becoming top of a basket. She was accompanied by a slim, dark whimsical woman: She reminded me of a gypsy.”
Stein and Toklas met in September 1907 and were together for over four decades. It was earlier the same year that The Cone sisters retuned to Baltimore. The following year was when Gertrude wrote “Two Sisters,” published in 1925 about Claribel and Etta Cone. Alice was have been Gertrude’s secretary and transcriber during the writing of this book.
Stein was influenced by her muse when creating her most famous poem. It has a last line that is often forgotten and was one of many word portraits she created:
ROSE IS A
ROSE IS A
ROSE IS A
She is my rose.
A related exhibition at the Frist can be found in the Education Gallery, A Walk Through Paris, ca. 1905, provides a fantastic timeline of events on The Cone Sisters and The Steins in Paris.
This is an interactive room where viewers are invited to study artists and their communities in early 20th century Paris. Using a map, visitors will “stroll” through the Parisian neighborhoods of Montparnasse and Montmartre, observing the elements necessary to create and sustain thriving artistic communities.
By examining this specific time of Paris in 1905 through photographs and text, visitors can gain a more complete understanding of how the artists and patrons from the Matisse, Picasso and the Paris exhibition met, lived and interacted. This exhibition encourages visitors to then consider how their own communities support artists.
It was at this point on my visit to The Frist Center that I was overwhelmed with the similarities of early 20th century Paris and early 21st century Nashville.
The growing and thriving arts community in Nashville is becoming more and more self-evident. Where are our cafés to gather to discuss art and literature and politics? From most observations, they are the coffee shops of Bongo Java East and Belmont and Fido, they are restaurants like Red, Margo, Marche’, Zola and Tin Angel. Where are our bookshops? Outloud, Davis Kidd and the downtown library. Where are our patrons? In the galleries, of course. Are we ourselves individual patrons of each other? Yes! I know of artists trading art and giving art and selling art to each other to help buy supplies and pay the rent and buy some food. Just as Alice and Gertrude passed out flyers of their newfound bookshop, we pass out postcards of art opening and plays and films being produced in Nashville.
Consider throwing your own salon (currently known as a house party) and invite actors, painters, writers and filmmakers to come and share their work. Ask the Metro Nashville Arts Commission for ideas on who to invite.
Consider how you support the arts and visit the feedback forum at http://www.visitthefrist.org/a-walk-in-paris-ca-1905 to post your thoughts.
Check out these other opportunities:
Art history lecture, Thursday April 5, 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium at The Frist
“Matisse, Picasso and ParisGertrude 1910” with Jim Womak and Gallery Talk, Thursday April 19, 7 p.m. with purchase of admission. Associate Curator Katie Delmez will discuss the exhibit.