27 Rue de Fleurus
27 Rue De Fleurus

Picasso's Portrait

Picasso's Portrait

Gertrude & Alice, 1908

Gertrude & Alice, 1908

Auntie the Ford, WWI

Auntie the Ford, WWI


27 Rue de Fleurus

"I have lived half my life in Paris, not the half that made me but the half in which I made what I made."

27 Rue de Fleurus would be the first real and permanent home for Leo and Gertrude since leaving Oakland in 1891, and one that Gertrude would remain in for almost 40 years.

Leo had become a collector of art and Gertrude was soon to follow. Their home became known as the "Salon" with paintings literally covering all the wall space in their modest living quarters...paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, Cezanne, and many others overflowed into every room of the household.

"Paris was the place that suited those of us that were to create the twentieth century art and literature..."

Many artists, writers, and critics became frequent callers at "27" for the Saturday night dinner parties. After meeting Picasso, Gertrude and the artist became close friends for many years. In 1905 she agreed to sit for the now famous portrait...later reflecting on the painting she said...

"I was and still am satisfied with my portrait, for me it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me."

Soon "27" became so popular as a sanctuary for artists and writers that Gertrude began writing late at night, after all the guests had departed.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 would draw Michael Stein and his wife back to the city to check on family properties. While there, at a party being given by friends, they met Miss Alice B. Toklas. After hearing their stories of Paris and other travels abroad Alice decided to sail to Europe with a friend, Harriet Levy.

While in Paris Alice was invited to one of the Saturday night parties at "27". She soon became a regular visitor and began going to the galleries and theater with Gertrude...while helping in proofreading "Three Lives" and transcribing "The Making of Americans" manuscripts. In 1910 she moved in with Gertrude and Leo, and would remain Gertrude's companion for 39 years.

"When I began writing I was always writing about beginning again and again. In The Making of Americans I was making a continuous present a continuous beginning again and again, the way they do in making automobiles or anything, each one has to be begun, but now everything having been begun nothing had to be begun again."

Gertrude continued to write but her abstract style was not received well by the general public. Many patrons of the arts called her a "literary cubist"...in her ability of projecting reality beyond reality, and compared her to the "cubist" painters of that time.

Her first publication in a periodical was in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Works magazine. Although of small circulation, it was read by American people of influence in the art world.

In the spring of 1912 Gertrude and Alice went to Spain where Gertrude began working on a series of articles that would later be published in the book Tender Buttons, 1914.

Mabel Dodge, a friend of Gertrude's (a rather stout woman herself) commented after a visit to "27"... "...she was positively, richly attractive in her grand ampleur. She always seemed to like her own fat anyway and that usually helps other people to accept it. She had none of the funny embarrassment Anglo-Saxons have about the flesh. She gloried in hers."

By 1912 Gertrude and her bother Leo's friendship became strained and Leo moved out in 1913. They would have little contact with each other from that time on.

Rumors of war began to surface by early 1914 as Germans marched toward Paris. In March Gertrude and Alice left Paris after a series of bombing alerts and zeppelin raids.

They returned in 1916 and decided to help out with the war efforts by joining the "American Fund for French Wounded". A Ford automobile was shipped from America and outfitted like a truck so they could deliver supplies to hospitals around Paris. The Ford was nicknamed "Auntie" in honor of Gertrude's aunt in America.

A friend, W.G. Rogers later commented on Gertrude's driving..."...she regarded a corner as something to cut, and another car as something to pass, and she could scare the daylights out of all concerned."

After the war everything seemed changed and unsettled in Paris. These years would be dubbed "The Lost Generation" ...the world disillusioned by war, it was a time of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others writers to express this sense of lost direction and idealism. Hemingway said on meeting Gertrude..."It was a vital day for me when I stumbled upon you."

The old Ford "Auntie" was replaced by "Godiva", so named because of its nakedness of all amenities. They returned to their country home in Bilignin where she would produce some of her best works. Although her name was now well known, limited publication of her works prevented her from being widely read.

In 1933 all this was to change with the publication of "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas".