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0090 Gergely Barki, The Steins and the Hungarians

RIHA Journal 0090 | 22 May 2014

The Steins and the Hungarians

Gergely Barki

Institute for Art History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

Peer review and editing managed by:

Judit Faludy, Institute for Art History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest


Jack Flam, Rebecca Rabinow


The traveling exhibition entitled "The Steins Collect" (2011-12) again drew attention – and on this occasion in a manner perhaps more vivid than any exhibition to date – to the importance of the systematically canon-shaping work that took place in two tiny Parisian ateliers (one in the Rue de Fleurus, the other in the Rue de Madame) in terms of the new painterly movements that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. Leo, Gertrude, and Michael, three siblings from the Stein family, a family of Jewish origin from San Francisco, along with Michael's wife Sarah, not only built within the space of a few years the most important contemporary art collection in Paris, but through their lively salons came to be the most influential shapers and propagators of universal modernism, making their influence felt to this day on assessments of avant-garde art. In the course of preparations for the exhibition and the publication of the accompanying catalogue, both of which provide a comprehensive survey of the Steins' activity, light was cast on the family's Hungarian connections as well. Consequently, one painting by the Hungarian Vilmos Pelrott-Csaba was included at the American venues (San Francisco and New York) of the exhibition, and a presentation on the family's ties to Hungary was held at the scholarly conference organized in connection with the exhibition. Despite the fact that several essays have been published on this subject, the written sources have not been collected – neither those dealing with the large number of Hungarians present at the Steins' Saturday evening gatherings, nor those covering the Hungarian pupils at the Académie Matisse, which was closely aligned with the Steins. This essay is a revised version of the presentation held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, supplemented with additional source-material.



  1. "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde," a traveling exhibition accompanied by an ambitious catalogue that showcased many facets of the Stein family's collection and canon-creating activity, offered many pleasant developments for researchers in Hungary.1 Although there are only a few Hungarian threads, sparsely interwoven in the history of the American family, the topic deserves additional attention, given the exclusively Hungarian sources that can contribute to international scholarship on early 20th-century art. Much of this material is unpublished and available only in Hungarian, so it has remained unknown to foreign scholars and, for that matter, to many Hungarian scholars as well.2

1 The Stein children, together with their tutor and governess, Vienna, 1877 (?). Archive photo (Pokorny & Reuter, Vienna). Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Image ID: 1357928

  1. The richness of the source material is made even more compelling thanks to the Hungarian connection at the early stages of the Stein family's collecting. We could even assert (with some strong exaggeration) that the Steins' collecting endeavors were thanks to a Hungarian. (Fig. 1) In Brenda Wineapple's book about Gertrude and Leo Stein, we find, "Since his youth, when his tutor had introduced him to the joys of collecting, [Leo Stein] relished its satisfaction."3 According to this, the Hungarian governess, who was responsible for the boys' upbringing during the family's three-year residence in Vienna (1875-1878), was responsible for a defining experience in the Steins' lives (or at least Leo's). For Leo Stein collecting was the medium through which he formed relationships with others.


Hungarian Invasion at the Steins'

  1. Because she very publicly took credit for the discovery and patronage of Matisse and Picasso in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude has erroneously been considered responsible for the formation of the Stein family collections. Her claims have been supported by her strong temperament (diametrically opposed to Leo's), her astounding self-promotional skills, and most of all to the success of her autobiographical book, which was also translated into Hungarian.4 Nevertheless, as "The Steins Collect" so carefully documents, this predominant role is not in accordance with reality at all. The Steins' Hungarian relationships were overwhelmingly due to Leo.

  2. Nonetheless, in terms of Hungarian connections, Gertrude Stein's book still proves to be a presious resource. At the start of the book, she conjures up the spirit of the atelier, established in the now famous 27 Rue de Fleurus, with the passage: "The room was soon very very full and who were they all. Groups of Hungarian painters and writers, it happened that some Hungarian had once been brought and the word had spread from him throughout all Hungary, any village where there was a young man who had ambitions heard of 27 Rue de Fleurus and then he lived but to get there and a great many did get there. They were always there, all sizes and shapes, all degrees of wealth and poverty, some very charming, some simply rough and every now and then a very beautiful young peasant."5

  3. Well into the book, while attempting to revive an entire era, the time of beginnings around 1906, she writes, "It was at that time that the Hungarians began their pilgrimages to the Rue de Fleurus."6 It can be no accident that Gertrude Stein should single out the Hungarians' visits or should consider their presence so striking. Indeed, among the Hungarians, the doorknob passed from hand to hand, and word spread from mouth to mouth that in the Parisian studio that Gertrude and Leo shared, one could view an unrivaled concentration of Matisse and Picasso works. Later, when the flat in Montparnasse became a famous destination for those both from Europe and abroad who were interested in art, the dominant Hungarian presence among the guests was still remarkable. Gertrude Stein described the early 1910s, "The Saturday evenings in those early days were frequented by many Hungarians, quite a number of Germans, quite a few mixed nationalities, a very thin sprinkling of Americans, and practically no English."7

  4. Although this extraordinarily rich source makes frequent mention of Hungarians, it can be challenging to identify the individuals to whom the author's remarks apply.

  5. Hungarians are mentioned in the chapter devoted to the opening of Matisse's school, although not at all in a flattering light: "One of the Hungarians wanted to earn his living posing for the class and in the intervals when some one else posed go on with his painting. There were a number of young women who protested, a nude model on a model stand was one thing but to have it turn into a fellow student was another. A Hungarian was found eating the bread for rubbing out crayon drawings that the various students left on their painting boards and this evidence of extreme poverty and lack of hygiene had an awful effect upon the sensibilities of the Americans."8 We know that, among Matisse's Hungarian pupils, József Brummer, a sculpting apprentice from Szeged, served as a model9 (all the while filling the school's stoker position).10 The identity of the impoverished Hungarian student who devoured bread erasers, however, is still unknown. Brummer posed as a model in different schools and in his compatriots' studios,11 but he soon opened an art dealership in the French capital, where he amassed such a fortune in the trade of African sculpture and Far East works that, moving to New York, he quickly became one of America's most influential art dealers and gallery owners.12 In New York's Metropolitan Museum, the site of my presentation, thousands of the file cards which enumerate art pieces feature his name.

  6. We are also able to identify the Hungarian described later in the book: "Speaking of Spain also reminds me that once we were in a crowded restaurant. Suddenly in the end of the room a tall form stood up and a man bowed solemnly at Gertrude Stein who as solemnly replied. It was a stray Hungarian from Saturday evening, surely."13 This episode takes place in 1911. That is, it occurred the same year that Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba traveled in Spain. We can assume therefore that he was the anonymous stray Hungarian in question, although Gertrude Stein surely would have remembered him as one of Matisse's favorite pupils and one of the Saturday night evenings' permanent Hungarian members.

  7. The only Hungarian that the author mentions by name in her book is Béla Czóbel. Upon visiting the 1907 Salon des Indépendants, Gertrude passionately describes how at the exhibition she encountered Matisse's style-altering masterpiece Blue Nude,14 which would soon enrich her and Leo's collection. She continues, "In the same room as the Matisse, a little covered by a partition, was a Hungarian version of the same picture by one Czóbel whom I remembered to have seen at the Rue de Fleurus, it was the happy independent way to put a violent follower opposite the violent but not quite as violent master."15

  8. Unfortunately, this painting, in all certainty one of Czóbel's most significant, has not been located. A few years ago, an archive photo surfaced from the estate of György Bölöni (Fig. 2), featuring a previously unknown reclining female nude by Czóbel.16 Initially, I supposed that this image could be the version which Gertrude Stein mentioned with such distinction – which, in all probability, is also the painting that Cultural Minister Albert Apponyi had removed from the wall at the 1908 exhibition of MIÉNK (=Circle of Hungarian Impressionists and Naturalists).17 After a careful re-examination of the information at my disposal, I now suspect that there existed among Czóbel's work a much rawer – if you prefer, a more primitive – nude than this one. The American author Gelett Burgess, who visited the Hungarian painter in his Cité Falguière studio, describes a painting that is more brutal and wilder than the nude seen in the photograph: "In the center of the room is a revolting picture of a woman. Did I say woman? Let us, in decency, call it a female. Czóbel, no doubt, like Braque, would prefer to call it Woman. She is naked and unashamed, if one can judge by her two large eyes. Others of her ilk lie about. As a rule, they are aged 89. They have very purple complexions, enlivened with mustard-colored spots and yolk-yellow throats; they have orange and blue arms. Sometimes, not often, they wear bright green skirts. […] Czóbel observes them through the bars of his cage, roaring out in mauve and cinnabar tones."18

2 Photograph of Béla Czóbel's lost painting Reclining Female Nude in a Paris studio, 1907. National Széchényi Library, Archives, György Bölöni's legacy

  1. It is worthwhile here to pose a question. How did Burgess hear of the Hungarian painter, and why should he have paid him a visit? With reference to Edward Fry, I, too, for a long time supposed that Matisse must have been the intermediary.19 Now, however, I suspect that Burgess could have gathered information on those who represented the newest directions during visits to the Steins. We know that Burgess attended the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1908, and that additionally, around the same time, he visited Gertrude Stein in the company of the American feminist author Inez Haynes Irwin.20 In all certainty, Irwin's contact with the Steins was thanks to Burgess,21 but how did Burgess himself arrive there? The intermediary may well have been the American painter Max Weber,22 who was a key point of contact between certain Hungarian painters and the Steins. After all, in 1906, he lived in a house of studios at 9 Rue Campagne Première, along with Róbert Berény, Dezső Czigány, Lajos Gulácsy, and György Bölöni, in addition to maintaining a relationship with Béla Czóbel.23

  2. At the Steins', Burgess had the opportunity to view a great number of works by Matisse for the first time and to meet the chief of the Fauves and his followers. I think it is likely that Burgess gained access to the French capital's most progressive painters – in order to interview the "wild men of Paris," as he called them – through his conversations with Max Weber and the Steins.

  3. Stunned by the force of innovation, Burgess did not publish his article, "The Wild Men of Paris," which is based on interviews he conducted in the spring of 1908, until 1910. Why did he wait two years before informing America of the newest developments in artistic life seething in Europe? Soon after his return to America, he released a volume of short stories, presenting readers with his Paris experiences wrapped in a fictional narrative.24 Of the eight painters that he interviewed, four are mentioned by name in his book, and Czóbel several times.

  4. In other words, the article in Architectural Record was not the first publication to bring word of the Fauves and the Cubists stateside. Instead, the honor goes to Burgess's almost unknown book of short stories.

  5. It is worth quoting here, because once again, it underscores that Czóbel's Fauve style was more elementary and primitive than scholars might imagine based on his pictures which are known today. "He, who had never been in France, who had never seen a single disciple of its school, was of 'les fauves' – he was a Wild Beast – wilder, if possible, than Derain, as wild as Czóbel or Picasso. […] The rudely carven African gods that had delighted and stimulated Derain, the Alaskan totem poles to which Picasso was indebted for his fury, the Aztec graven images that had urged Czóbel to his ferocity, were all unknown to Haulick Smagg. […] Derain's shrill blues and tumultuous reds, Czóbel's harsh greens, and Picasso's hot yellows Smagg, in his artistic orgy, rewove into crazier forms."25

  6. Czóbel was a significant figure among the pack of fauves that had formed around Matisse.26 It is striking to see Czóbel's name in Burgess's writings, especially since he is an artist who has faded from international awareness.Yet, there are many sources from the period that mention him. He was at the forefront of the Parisian avant-garde, more so than his countrymen, and perhaps as a result, was considered aloof. At least, this is how his young Hungarian peers – presumably, not without envy– recalled him: "Czóbel was a terribly selfish man. We were at the Steins'. I was talking with Picasso. Introductions were not the custom then. I knew who he was, he didn't know me. Later, Czóbel showed up. Picasso asked him who I was. Czóbel said, 'a Hungarian' with a wave of the hand. [...] Czóbel had a handwritten sign on his studio door: 'Frappez la porte, aprés déter votre [nom] S.V.P.' [Knock on the door, then state your name, please.] He would only open the door if it was someone he wanted to allow in. Once Perlrott-Csaba played a joke on him. He knocked and said it was a money delivery. Czóbel opened the door for that."27

  7. Czóbel was already a well-known painter when Amedeo Modigliani became his studio neighbor in 1906. Although their relations were marked by constant grumpiness and quarreling, Modigliani was basically a novice at the time. As their mutual friend Paul Alexandre recalled, "In [Modigliani's] drawings there is invention, simplification and purification of form. This is why African art appealed to him. [He] had reconstructed the lines of a human face in his own way by fitting them into primitive patterns. […] This search for simplification in drawing also delighted him in certain paintings by Rousseau (Le Douanier) and in Czobel's figures from fairground stalls."28 Some of Czóbel's marketplace pictures have been rediscovered in recent years, and some of his remarks about the abovementioned friendship have been preserved. "I often met with Modigliani and his friend, Dr. Paul Alexander, who is still living, though at the time he was finishing his medical studies. We would come together in a studio somewhere near Rue Douai. The place had no owner. A painter named Doucet worked there, and he was handled by Charles Vidrac, a poet and art dealer at the time on Rue de Seine. All this was quite removed from Montmartre and the Hungarians. Mr. Paul Alexandre would bring hashish, une sorte de pâté verte que nous avons mâché [a sort of green pâté that we would munch on]. It was probably weak. I didn't feel any effect. Modi was still going to the Caf. Con. At that time, it was called Européen. I can also mention the Atelier Humbert, where I would go with Berény for the evening nude. Derain, Marquet, Manguin, etc., went there. They are famous now, but then they were not famous. This could have been around 1906, 1907."29

  8. We learn from a number of memoirs that many of the Hungarians in Paris attended the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière. According to both Géza Bornemisza's and Max Weber's accounts, Henri Matisse would "not infrequently appear" for the nude sketches in the evening in 1906-07.30 In other words, just a few years before opening his own academy, Matisse took advantage of the nude drawing opportunities at the free schools; Matisse and Czóbel may have drawn shoulder-to-shoulder. Curiously, the literature, both in Hungary and internationally, has stated that Czóbel was Matisse's pupil.31 There is no evidence to support this supposition. Its original source may have been the artist Maurice Denis32 or the dealer Berthe Weill.33 Alfred Barr took these statements as fact,34 and repeated it in his writings. When I gave my presentation in New York, audience members questioned why the already up-and-coming Czóbel would feel the need to become Matisse's student. No, Czóbel was almost surely not a pupil of Matisse, nor did he attend his academy. Czóbel's position within the Fauve group alone makes this difficult to imagine, and Hungarian pupils at the Académie Matisse (who were present since its inception in 1908) do not mention him as one of the students. Czóbel did not consider his French colleague as a Master, but as a predecessor and an inspiration.

  9. It is worth citing a letter that Czóbel wrote to an older colleague, József Rippl-Rónai:35 "Honored Sir, I enclose the Matisse reproductions. If I can, I will send more. How do you like them? I kiss your dear wife's hand. Your devoted follower, Béla Czóbel."36

3 Part of Michael and Sarah Stein's Matisse collection on Rue Madame (Picture sent by Béla Czóbel to József Rippl-Rónai), 1907. Hungarian National Gallery, Archive, Item No.: 5134/1950/29. 4

  1. In this letter from Paris, dated February 23, 1908, Czóbel enclosed a photograph taken in Michael and Sarah Stein's apartment on Rue Madame.37 (Fig. 3) Like the nearby apartment that Leo and Gertrude shared, the Rue Madame flat served as an open house on Saturday nights. Michael and Sarah's gatherings were less casual than Leo and Gertrude's Saturday evenings. They started earlier, and there were those who simply strolled from one venue to the next, although more simply arrived at the latter address for the events that regularly began at 9 p.m. Here, Leo Stein, who had invited them, already held the role of both host and moderator. This was where the otherwise withdrawn Leo found his true self, and the majority of Hungarians preferred to establish a relationship with him, the "missionary of progressive art." Presumably, Czóbel himself gained access to the Saturday soirées thanks to Leo. What is completely sure, however, is that they maintained contact even after Leo left Paris. They almost certainly met in the 1930s, which a drawing of Leo prepared by Czóbel seems to prove.38 (Fig. 4)

4 Béla Czóbel. Portrait of Leo Stein, c. 1930 (?). Charcoal on paper, 10½ x 8 in. Hungarian National Gallery, Item No.: F.2011.1


Leo Stein, the True Mediator;or, the Montparnasse Apostle

In Paris, I often ran across a tall man of about fifty who would go about bareheaded in loose black velvet pants and sandals – even in winter. I took him for some eccentric oddball, or Russian nihilist. I would see him without fail at some new exhibition opening, or an open house for some private collection either at Durand-Ruel's flat or on the Rue Lafitte, or at one of the more interesting auctions at the Hôtel Drouot. I grew accustomed to his presence and took his being there for granted, not giving it a second thought. The artistic population of Paris ran to 33,000 at the time, so one more eccentric barely counted for anything among all those artists. The man was Leo Stein. Later, he attended the Académie Delécluse, drawing with the rest of us. One day I completed a rather successful study, a painted female form. He stopped behind me, looked at it for a long time, and then asked in German if I would not mind paying him a visit. He would receive me on Saturday night. I thanked him for the invitation, and at my affirmative response, he gave me a name card with his address. I didn't see much in him. I took him for a poor devil like myself, but what is a hungry man to do? I thought that if he invited me, he would serve me some hot tea. Even that would be something! Saturday night around nine o'clock, I knocked on the door of the ground-floor apartment. He opened the door. After the mutual greeting, I found myself in an immense hall with walls filled up to the ceiling with books. The only furniture in this library was an iron barracks-style bed. The surprise left me practically speechless, but I was even more surprised by another oblong room with overhead lighting where the pictures on display pulled me like a magnet. There was Renoir, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Bonnard, Degas, and so on. Along the walls there were also carved antique Renaissance chests teeming with Chinese and Japanese silk paintings, woodcuts, estampes, and drawings. At that time, Picasso had not yet turned to Cubism, and I especially enjoyed a picture of his painted with a pale, pleasant pink in mild blue tones. It depicted a female circus performer balancing on a ball, while another circus performer, a giant of a man, stood in the foreground with his back to us. Today the picture is the property of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I certainly learned a great deal from my highly refined, art connoisseur friend Leo Stein. I received books from him. Even now I possess some ten books about art that were presents from him. In the course of our talks, which we continued at the art school – which he frequented – many times he directed my attention to some worthy goal and refined my opinion of it. I proved fertile ground, and drank in the plentiful knowledge. I became a regular guest on Saturday evenings, and I met several exceptional artists besides Picasso and Matisse. Picasso was a short, stocky man, the chauffeur type. Had I seen him in Nagybánya in a sports cap, I would never have distinguished him from countless others, and his exterior would not have betrayed that he was a world-famous artist. Matisse was a bespectacled professor type. He was a student at the Académie des Beaux Arts until the age of forty. After such a thorough grounding, he embarked on new paths. At that time, his studio was in a building once part of a convent. He would hold open houses, and I saw him at work with an unusually small palette bearing hardly any colors. He would arrange his various tools and brushes with a pedantry more like a dentist's than a great artist's. I met two more members of the Stein family, Leo's older sister and older brother, who were also among the first collectors of Picasso and Matisse. I knew that their parents came from Vienna and became millionaires in the Chicago meatpacking industry. All three Stein children lived in Paris and lived off their inheritance. I believe that in devoting themselves to collecting art, besides their love and appreciation of art, their fortune played a role from the point of view of sound investments and patronage. It is a fact that they were particularly significant in promoting the reputations of the two artists mentioned above. Through their purchases, they directed their money to these painters, which made their further work possible.39

  1. This long, detailed quotation from Mikola is worthy of study, and not just from a Hungarian perspective. Despite a few factual errors,40 it provides certain information which could supplement Leo Stein's biography. It is also interesting that Leo spoke German, and not French, to the Hungarians. This was the common tongue, in which the American raised in Vienna and the Hungarians (who had strayed from the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Paris) could best understand each other. Moreover, allusions to Leo's affiliation with the Académie Delécluse are exclusively confined to Hungarian sources. It is not only Mikola, the school's custodian, who provides such information, but also Géza Bornemisza. What makes the quotation truly significant is that, unlike other Hungarian sources, Mikola expresses a profound esteem for Leo Stein's aesthetic knowledge, his vocation for taste formation, and his role as a propagator. Whereas a majority of memoirs in the Hungarian language are fairly superficial and tend to characterize the Stein siblings' eccentric appearance or extraordinary behavior, Mikola portrays very credibly the side of Leo Stein that probably had the most impact on the Hungarians in general. Many considered Leo to be an extraordinarily learned connoisseur and collector with refined powers of discrimination. His extensive knowledge and erudition was apparent in his conversations with artists and qualified him to take on such a major role at his "Saturday nights," that of moderator, aesthete, and theorist. He very consciously created a canon and propagated modern art internationally.41

  2. Therefore, from the point of view of assessing the artistic views of the Hungarian Fauves between 1905 and 1909 – as well as those of The Eight, since this period was just prior to their formation – Consequently it is especially important to know how Leo Stein interpreted the works of the 1870s generation, Gauguin and Cézanne, and more importantly, Matisse and Picasso, who, more than any other absolutely contemporary artists, occupied the pinnacle of the mainstream. Of the future Eight, Czóbel, Kernstok, Orbán, and Pór, as well as their younger colleague Róbert Berény regularly visited the Steins. Berény may have been among the first to come to know the Steins' collection. In his works from 1905 and 1906, we can already appreciate the influence of Matisse and Cézanne. These pictures are not mere imitations; they testify to a refined understanding, a profound knowledge and feeling for aesthetics. Surely the Leo-dominated Saturday night conversations impacted Berény and other Hungarians – even if it was primarily the direct study of the collection itself, its visual acceptance, that altered and influenced their later art. Leo was extremely well-read and additionally well acquainted with two of the period's most influential art historians, Julius Meier-Graefe and Bernard Berenson. He interpreted them critically and often strongly pointed out his own opinions which were at odds with theirs. One focal point of his personal aesthetic creed was a comment upon the art of Cézanne in relation to the role of space and mass, which was a drastic departure from Meier-Graefe's analysis, for instance. Indeed, Leo believed that, besides color, Cézanne's main challenge was the emphasis of mass. It is no accident that this theory – although it could be derived from other sources – applies to most of the artists in The Eight, particularly the aesthetic that Berény represents.

  3. Bernard Berenson had a significant effect upon Leo Stein's views. They regularly met every summer just outside of Florence, where both men maintained homes. Berenson boldly compared Cézanne to Michelangelo, two giants whose (opposite) poles defined the scale of The Eight's dualistic aesthetic; though, in truth, it developed from a point of origin defined by both of them.

  4. Róbert Berény's and Bertalan Pór's trip to Italy in the summer of 1907 was typical of The Eight, not to mention a symbolic manifestation of their simultaneous efforts with regard to modernism's classicizing tendency. In the course of their journey, they consciously sought out classic (and primitive) roots and parallels to the avant-garde which was emerging in Paris. Pór later recalled that their Grand Tour had such an influence upon them that in emulation of the great masters they grew out their beards.42 Somewhat contradicting this anecdote is a ferrotype which has recently come to light. It was taken in Nizza, at the outset of their journey, and both men can be seen with beards.43 (Fig. 5) In addition, a portrait which showed Pór sporting a sparse beard was displayed by Berény in the Salon des Indépendants exhibit months before they began their tour.44 We are also aware that, among Parisian students and painters at the time, a beard was a commonplace accessory. Only at home in Hungary were they able to create a sensation with it.45

Bertalan Pór and Róbert Berény in Nizza, Spring 1907. Ferrotype, private owner


Assimilated Jews from Budapest and San Francisco in Montparnasse

  1. Berény's ruddy beard caused a stir in Paris. As Dezső Orbán recalls, "He could have been 22 then [actually, just 20] with a reddish beard like Christ, which was still shocking to Parisian tastes. And there was an episode that I'll never forget. We were walking along some boulevard when along comes a rather young shopgirl. She looked at Róbert for a moment and was speechless, but then she quickly composed herself and said to him, 'Dit donc Jésu Christ, quesqu'il fait le bon dieu ?' [sic! – Tell me Jesus Christ, how is doing the Good Lord?] It was an unimaginably funny scene."46

  2. Interestingly enough, the mention of a red beard occurs often in Hungarian recollections of Leo Stein – for example, that of Márk Vedres, a sculptor and guest artist at The Eight's group exhibit in 1911. Neither Leo nor Gertrude followed the Parisian bohemian trends in fashion; Leo, for his part, sported a sizable beard, which was the subject of many snide remarks. Vedres recounts meeting the Steins in an Italian studio in Fiesole "Leo Stein was a braggart American. He'd crumple up the newspaper and declare it art. His older sister was a strange woman. She went to Florence in sackcloth and sandals. Fat woman. And Leo Stein was a red-bearded Jew. Kernstok sent them to me in Florence. Leo Stein and his sister bought from a business point of view, rather than for public interest. The children used to rush after her down the street."47

  3. The account is surprisingly malicious. Vedres was clearly not aware of Leo's Berensonesque grasp of art history, with which perhaps he could have identified. In any case, we must note here that The Eight's understanding of modernism is debated even today. With respect to the sculptor, how much did his notions differ from the most radical views of Berény and Tihanyi, or the most conservative classicizing view represented by Kernstok?48

  4. Further, we must mention that Vedres made contact with a number of American collectors in Italy. It is possible that the Steins helped facilitate these relationships. For example Kernstok presumably drew the Steins' attention to his Hungarian sculptor friend with the intention of acquiring patrons. Moreover, many of the Stein's well-to-do American friends visited their villa in Fiesole. These are exactly the people who would have been attracted to the classicizing trend represented by Vedres. Vedres's blunt remark about Leo's Jewishness is particularly odd, especially since Vedres, like many of The Eight, was of Jewish descent himself. Although the Steins' parents had been observant Jews, the grown children were assimilated; some even celebrated Christmas.49 Berény did as well; he spent Christmas Eve 1909 in Paris with the composer Béla Bartók.

  5. The literature has addressed Jewish circles in Paris, in particular in Montparnasse. The Steins did not really belong to any of these groups, despite the fact that their lifestyle, disposition, and interests clearly appealed to the new generation of assimilated Jews. Most of the artists promoted by the Steins were not Jewish, a number of their Saturday evening guests were. At the same time, I will venture that it could be no accident that they held their gatherings not on society's accepted day of rest, Sunday, but on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. Further, they did not refer to these events as salons or soirées, but Saturday nights, which undoubtedly held some significance.


L'Académie Matisse

  1. The non-Jewish artists who circulated in this cosmopolitan community received their share of vitriol from the contemporary French conservative men of letters, chiefly right-wing with nationalist sentiments. Matisse was the target of especially fierce attacks, since so many foreign students attended his school.50 The Dreyfus Affair was just then drawing to a close, so Matisse was especially vulnerable to charges. Artists of Jewish background arrived at his academy in great numbers, even from Hungary – for example, the previously mentioned Brummer or Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba, who could undoubtedly consider himself close to Matisse. Through his master's good graces he became sociéter of the Salon d'Automne.51 Because Matisse's school kept no logs, yearbooks, or admission records, art historians' estimates of the number of pupils at the short-lived academy are based upon later recollections and show a great deal of discrepancy.52 Just as the numbers of students among the largest groups at Matisse's school (Scandinavian, German, and American) are unclear, we have no precise knowledge of the number of Hungarians either. We have inconsistent information and nothing approaching a complete list of names.

  2. The painter Gyula Andorkó is little-known in Hungary, although he is remembered in New York as the first owner of a Van Gogh painting, Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase (1890) that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum.53 The young Andorkó committed suicide in 1909, and after his death, an exhibition and sale of his collection was organized. The title assigned in 1920 to one of his paintings, "Matisse's Moorish model", implies that he may have been a pupil of Matisse (although the title could have been born out of speculation for the Ernst Museum's auction).54 Like Matisse and Marquet, who had borrowed Matisse's studio since 1908, Andorkó also painted the landscape from the Seine-spanning bridge Pont Saint-Michel,55 as did his compatriot Lajos Tihanyi on several occasions.

  3. Contemporary sources prove that there were at least three Hungarian women who studied with Matisse and who were, by no means accidentally, also artists' wives: Valéria Dénes, Erzsi Fejérváry, and Márta Ferentzy.56 When they arrived at the academy, the school was already approaching its final days. Besides the aforementioned József Brummer, however, the most consistent Matisse pupils were Géza Bornemisza and Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba, who were present around the time of the school's opening, roughly in January 1908. Although Perlrott mistakenly associated it with the year 1906,57 he recalls the time when the school was founded, thus asserting that he was among its first pupils. Géza Bornemisza, in a letter to István Réti dated March 1908, also informs us that he spent the previous months at Matisse's academy; that is, he was present at the time of the school's inception.58 Moreover, he possessed a document, issued by Matisse in 1909, certifying that he was a student at the school.59 Surprisingly the Scandinavian, German, and American founders of Matisse's school do not mention the names Perlrott and Bornemisza. Jean Heiberg recalls that, when he was accepted to the school in the winter of 1908, the total number of students jumped to 12 or 15, and there were Hungarians among them.60 Perlrott – for the time being, the only identifiable Hungarian – can be recognized in the often reproduced group photo taken in Matisse's school (Fig. 6), which Alfred Barr dated 1910, based on a statement by Carl Palme.61 According to Palme, Howarth, a German painter, took the photograph in October 1910. This is contradicted, though, by another copy of the picture (existing in a tattered condition, but also reproduced several times), where we can read the year 1909. This caption was presumably provided by a Norwegian student.62

6 Group picture of Matisse's students, 1909. Archive photo, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo

7 Group picture of Matisse's students, 1909. Archive photo (source:

  1. Meanwhile, a Swedish blog63 contains a previously unknown photo (Fig. 7) that appears to have been taken at the same time. It is very similar but blurrier and the participants are in slightly different poses. In this version Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba faces forward (whereas, in the well-known photo, he is turned toward Matisse); and it appears to have a wider angle, so the complete figure of the woman on the right-hand side can be seen. When this snapshot emerged, I examined a third archive photo from around the same time in which Géza Bornemisza can be seen with his two painter friends.64

  2. Based upon the physiognomic similarities, I propose that the man with the moustache, above Perlrott and a little to the right in the group photo, may be Géza Bornemisza.65 According to contemporary sources and memoirs, Perlrott and Bornemisza studied under Matisse at the same time. They both demonstrated an uncommon interest in sculpture. In a letter written to István Réti in April 1908,66 Géza Bornemisza related that he began to sculpt at the urging of Matisse. We are unaware if any of these pieces have survived; still, we may note his interest in the plastic from in several works.67 In a still-life from 1910,68 the centerpiece is a (presumably painted) plaster statue quite similar to the sculpture that appears in several still-lifes by Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba. Certainly, this statue appearing in Perlrott's paintings holds some significance for him, and not only in the nature of a reoccurring theme or prop. We may also conclude that in his most representative self-portrait, which quotes Renaissance portraiture,69 the statuette that appears in his hand functions as a sort of attribute. It may be an allusion to Matisse's school. (It is as though he is saying, "Master, I followed your instructions! Here, I prepared a work of sculpture.")

  3. Like other students at Matisse's school, Perlrott painted a number of studio nudes during his time there. We know of only two (Fig. 8); the rest were either lost or cut apart so that the canvas on the other side could be reused.70 In terms of identifying the place where these paintings had been executed, I would like to draw attention to some new evidence or data which perhaps will be of interest to Matisse scholars as well. In the The Steins Collect catalogue, there appeared a certain photograph of the sculpting course at Matisse's school, taken around 1909.71 (Fig. 9) Just like in the case of the class photo earlier, it shows several deviations from a previously known and widely reproduced version.72 However, the snapshot is not only intriguing on account of small nuances in posture and hand placement. The angle of the picture is shifted a little to the left, revealing a particular corner of the room which – at least, as far as I am aware – we could not observe in any other photographic record. The board with the clock hung above it, as seen in the background, can also be observed as a minimalist motif in the backgrounds of several nude studies made by Matisse's students, including the aforementioned nude by Perlrott, held in Kaposvár. Up until the discovery, I only presumed that the board visible in the paintings displayed photos of the Chartres Cathedral, which Henrik Sørensen mentioned as the only decoration on the school's walls.73 In light of this snapshot, this is easily verified.

8 Vilmos Perlrott-Csaba. Female Nude, 1910. Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, 20½ x 16 in. Kaposvár, Rippl-Rónai Múzeum, Item No.: 55.403. Photo: György Darabos

9 Sculpting class at Matisse's school, c. 1909. Archive photo, Paris, Matisse Archives

  1. In those years, every summer, Perlrott returned to Nagybánya (now Baia Mare, Romania). It appears that if he took some of the paintings of nudes that he made in Paris and added Hungarian landscapes to them. It is difficult to determine from the figures' relationship to the space and to each other.

  2. They become compositions of rhythm and color their own sake. From an archive photo taken in Nagybánya,74 (Fig. 10) it appears that he actually painted the composition of nude males (Fig. 11), now held in the Janus Pannonius Museum (Pécs, Hungary), en plein air.75 It is likely that the photograph was only taken outdoors for the sake of the pose.