The earliest pictures in Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921 (Yale Univ., $60) were done by a nine-year-old boy. The thirty years this volume covers mark the artist’s formative years, showing him determined to master his craft, and the initial pieces lead to work reflecting Picasso’s absorption of the Old Masters, artists from whom he was willing to learn even as he experimented to improve his style and execution. As the book’s editors, Susan Grace Galassi and Mary McCully point out, Picasso was able to borrow from his predecessors, improve on them, and forge something entirely his own. That is why his work continues to amaze us.
And it’s why Picasso was “discovered” by the Steins. A wealthy family, they had the money to travel and buy art. Gertrude and Leo Stein began to collect almost as soon as they arrived in Paris in 1904; they bought their first Picasso in 1905. The Steins Collect (Yale Univ., $75), edited by a team of art historians, beautifully presents the works by Picasso, Matisse, and others that the Steins gathered in their legendary collections, and it also explores the relationships between the patrons and the artists. With text as substantial as the images, this catalog deepens knowledge and hence appreciation of all the work that went on in the early 20th-century art world, that of both the producers and the consumers.
Gertrude, of course, is the most famous of the Steins. She set out to reinvent the English language and was the formidable center of a wide-ranging artistic circle. Poets, novelists, painters, and others flocked to the Stein salon at 27 rue de Fleurus to meet and mingle. In Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories (Univ. of California, $45), Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer introduce Stein in her several public and private guises.