Stein’s word portraits “Matisse” and “Picasso” appeared in a special issue of Camera Work in New York City in 1912. The publisher, Alfred Stieglitz, was an accomplished photographer who devoted his life to making photography a creative art. Stieglitz had not quite understood the pieces, which was why he immediately decided to publish them. In doing so, he introduced Stein’s writing to the United States.

Stein was as much a historical figure as a celebrated writer. She and Picasso each created famous portraits of the other. Hers was in words. She had ample time to observe Picasso in the winter of 1906, when she posed for him some eighty times while he struggled to complete his portrait of her. Dissatisfied with his depiction of her head, Picasso departed for Spain. When he returned, he painted it in rapidly. When Stein cut her hair, friends worried that the famous portrait, which hung on the wall of her apartment, no longer resembled her. Picasso’s reply was that he had painted Stein as she would come to look.

Stein’s description of Picasso employs constant repetition to suggest the presence of someone doggedly moving forward. Picasso is portrayed as being ahead of others, and others are following his example, but he is not aware of his direction, only of the fact that he is moving. Stein’s hypnotic, repetitious sentences suggest that Picasso is a man plodding along, his eyes on the work before him, working to bring...

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