Picture at an Exhibition. Paris, 1955.

portrait-of-gertrude-stein

‘Baby said she wanted to feel strong again but refused the operation – and then she felt better but was growing very thin. Tired suffering Baby dismissed them all (Doctors) and said she never wanted to to see any of them again. She was furious and frightening and impressive – like she was thirty years ago when her work was attacked and oh, baby was so beautiful, in between the pain, like nothing before. And now she is in the vault at the American Cathedral on the Quad d’Orsay and I am here alone. And nothing more – only what was. You will know that nothing is very clear with me – everything is empty and blurred’. (Alice Tolkas’ letter to Carl and Fania Van Vechten, three days after the death of Stein)

‘The portrait of Gertrude is still here, you will understand how I can’t bear to think of its not being here, Gertrude always sat on the sofa and the picture hung over the fireplace opposite and I used to say in the old happy days that they looked at each and that possibly when they were alone they talked to each other’. (Alice Tolka’ letter to Mrs Charles B Goodspeed, a few months after the death of Stein)

‘The Metropolitan is taking the Picasso portrait early next week – it will be more of a wrench to see it go than I had thought possible. It isn’t so much because of its being a portrait – indeed the portrait of Gertrude – but because of there being so much of her in it, at first I was quiet indifferent – it didn’t seem if it made the least difference – in fact I kept urging the lawyer to see that they should take it – and now just dread their coming for it – my courage doesn’t fill a thimble’. ( Alice’s letter to Louise Taylor shortly before the collection of the Picasso)

‘I must tell you that the portrait has gone to the Metropolitan – they took it a week ago tomorrow – it was an awful wrench – I’d supposed the preparation m’endurcie but it wasn’t so at the last moment, the room is emptier than ever’. (Alice’s letter to Donald Gallup)

janet-flanner-standing-with-alice-b-toklas-in-front-of-picasso-s-portrait-of-gertrude-stein-1955

After reading a collection of essays on Museology, one particular essay by Anna Conlan entitled Mourning, Memorial and Queer Museology, i discovered the story of a photo entitled, Picture at an exhibition. Pairs, 1955 which showed Alice B Toklas stood in front of a portrait, by Picasso, of her Partner Gertrude Stein.

This photograph shows the personal grief of someone who has lost their partner of 40 years in a public environment but in an environment that does not want to welcome, nor mention the relationship between Gertrude and Alice. Alice is invisible because the social history aspect to the painting is over looked, it is not needed nor is it wanted. The Museums of the 1950’s eradicated the LGBT history attached to the painting.

The photo shows more than just a small, elderly looking woman stood in front of a painting, it shows the cruel eradication of Alice’s grief on a very public scale of the loss of her lifetime partner, and it is cruel to see.

 

 

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