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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

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.

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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 something out of himself that cannot be described. Stein calls this something “a heavy thing, a solid thing and a complete thing.”

She does not dehumanize Picasso, although his drive to paint and his need to paint are shown as almost machinelike. From the outset, she responds to him as a person and singles out his great charm as the hallmark of his nature. In the midst of this charm, she watches as Picasso struggles to bring out of himself something new and meaningful. All of his life, she thinks, something has been coming out of him that is lovely, interesting, disturbing, repellant, and very pretty.

He has always been working and will always be working, she sees. He seems to need to work, and his art is partly a way to satisfy his longing to work. Yet she concludes her portrait of Picasso with the tantalizing thought that even when he is working hardest, Picasso is never completely at work. She stops just short of saying how significant the ingredient play was to Picasso’s art and life.

Later, Stein explained the extreme repetitive style of her portraits as a necessary technique that mimicked the continuous images of the cinema. Through a succession of hypnotic statements, she hoped to erase the distinction between sentences and to create a continuous thing called a portrait. Like Picasso’s early canvases, Stein’s portrait of the artist was a thing that might, by degrees, seem new, interesting, disturbing, and very pretty.

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