NYC - Bryant Park: Gertrude Stein statue
One of five sculptures in Bryant Park, this statue honors the trailblazing American author and arts patron Gertrude Stein (1874–1946). Installed in 1992, this casting is based on a model made by Jo Davidson in Paris in 1923. Its proximity to the New York Public Library reflects Stein’s significant literary contributions—from plays, librettos, and film scripts to biographies, autobiographies, lectures, essays, poems, and novels.
Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein was the granddaughter of German-Jewish immigrants. Her father Daniel made a fortune in street-railroads and real estate. Stein spent her early childhood in Vienna and Paris before moving with her family to Oakland, California. She studied psychology with the famous psychologist and philosopher William James at Radcliffe College in Boston and conducted laboratory experiments there with Hugo Munsterberg. Stein nearly completed a medical degree at Johns Hopkins University, but in 1903 she chose to settle in Paris with her brother Leo, where they befriended Pablo Picasso and became champions of avant garde writers, musicians, and artists, including many early Cubist painters.
Stein’s early literary endeavors were inspired by the spatial concepts explored in Cubism. She developed an experimental use of language that relied upon the sound and rhythms of words as much as their content. In the 1920s she established a cultural salon in Paris, and influenced such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some of Stein’s writings from these years include Three Lives (1909), The Making of Americans (written between 1906 and 1911; published 1925), and Composition as Explanation (1906), an essay based on lectures she had delivered at Cambridge and Oxford.
Her life and relationships were recounted in the humorous and trenchant work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which reflected the life of her longtime companion. In 1934, she traveled to New York, where her opera Four Saints in Three Acts, with music by Virgil Thomson, was a great success performed by an all-black cast. After touring the United States, Stein returned to France, where she and Toklas remained through World War II, living in seclusion in country homes during the German occupation. Stein died on July 27, 1946 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Thomson later wrote music to accompany her work for a posthumously published opera, The Mother of Us All, based on the life of feminist Susan B. Anthony. Stein posed for Jo Davidson in 1920 at his temporary studio in Paris (the sitting is documented in a photograph by Man Ray). Cross-legged and heavy-set, she presented an almost Buddha-like gravity. Davidson, a leading portraitist in twentieth-century America, studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. For a period of time he sculpted at the Bryant Park Studios located opposite this park at 80 West 40th Street. He also sculpted a 1957 portrait bust of Fiorello H. LaGuardia located in Little Flower Playground on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a full-size figure of poet Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain State Park. This casting of the Stein statue is the eighth in an edition of ten - two others exist in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sculpture was a gift of Dr. Maury Leibowitz (1917–1992), vice-chairman and president of Knoedler-Modarco Galleries. It rests on a granite base designed by Kupiec & Koutsomitis, Architects. The statue was unveiled on November 5, 1992, a few months after the park reopened following an extensive redesign and restoration under the auspices of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation. Now, to borrow a phrase from Stein’s lexicon, there is a “there there,” the sculpture occupying a place of prominence in this formerly empty terrace niche between two sycamores (Platanus occidentalis).