Art: Patrons and Roped Climbers

In retrospect, the sturdy figure of Gertrude Stein looms over the cultural landscape of pre-World War I Paris like an old-fashioned radio—squat, massive, dark and droning out an endless stream of words. But if her words were sometimes tedious, her eye was seldom wrong. In fact, no American expatriate was a shrewder judge of Paris' radical new art. The Stein family, which came to be known as les Americains, made a powerful buying unit; it helped keep some of the best young artists in Europe alive. Gertrude's brother Leo (an aesthete of some pretension,...

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