Portraiture in verse traditionally had relied on description of the subject’s physical appearance. Gertrude Stein, the American expatriate and a catalyst for the international avant-garde, changed all that. In works like “Pablo Picasso”—composed in the years after the artist painted her—no such visual description occurs. Instead, the poems rely on the repetitive narration of action and the evocation of personal qualities. Stein played a pivotal role in dissociating the portrait subject (individual) from the portrait object (depiction). Her innovations within the realm of literature inspired many later developments in the visual arts.
Publisher: Published in Camera Work, special number, August 1912
"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"