Mothers of American Modernism

Both Gertrude Stein and Mabel Dodge Luhan were influential in spreading the ideas of modernism. Stein, as an American expatriate, did so primarily from Paris, and Luhan from the American southwest. Strong willed, highly independent and opinionated they each hosted social gatherings called soirées to which the modernist artists, writers and musicians of the time gathered, shared their work and their ideas well into the early morning hours.

Other Relevant issues/influences:


Gertrude Stein painted by Pablo Picasso, 1906

    • Gertrude Stein
      “A rose
      is a rose
      is a rose”
      (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) Ms Stein was born during the time of Reconstruction following the Civil War, living to see the end of WWII. She was an American novelist, poet, playwright, and art collector. Born in the Allegheny West neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, and made France her home for the remainder of her life. Author of Three Lives and Tender Buttons. Gertrude Stein came to her brother Leo’s Paris atelier in 1903 where she began her lifelong passion for art and her writing career. Her writing style was deeply influenced by what the painters she admired were doing, particularly by Picasso. The experience of Picasso painting the portrait of her in 1906, signaled both the beginning of Cubism in Modern Art and modern literature in her writing. In the ’20’s, she and Alice B. Toklas were regularly hosting soirées in her Parisian home at 27 rue de Flours where the leading figures of modernism in literature and art gathered, including:
    • Pablo Picasso
    • Henri Matisse
    • Paul Cezanne
    • Sherwood Anderson
    • F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • James Joyce
    • Sinclair Lewis
    • Ezra Pound
    • Ernest Hemingway


Mabel Dodge Luhan painted by Nicolai Fechin, 1927

  • Mabel Dodge Luhan
    (February 26, 1879 – August 13, 1962) Born shortly after Stein, but living a longer life, Dodge-Luhan began having artist soirées while living in Florence Italy (1904-1912).
    “You attract, stimulate, and suit people, and men like to sit with you and talk to themselves! You make them think more fluently, and they feel enhanced. If you had lived in Greece long ago, you would have been called a hetaira. Now why don’t you see what you can do with this gift of yours? Why not organize all this accidental, unplanned activity around you, this coming and going of visitors, and see these people at certain hours. Have Evenings!”—Lincoln Steffens.
    Upon returning to America and on Steffens urging she discovered New Mexico. She felt an immediate attraction [to Taos]: “My world broke in two right then, and I entered into the second half, a new world.” She dreamed of establishing Taos as the birthplace for a new American civilization, one not based on getting and spending, or on the redistribution of wealth. Mabel published three volumes in the Intimate Memories series: European Experiences (1935), Movers and Shakers (1936), and Edge of Taos Desert (1937) and also Winter in Taos (1935) and Taos and Its Artists (1947). Mabel thought that D.H. Lawrence was the “only one who can really see this Taos country and the Indians, and who can describe it so that it is as much alive between the covers of a book as it is in reality.” In addition to Lawrence, Mabel invited many artists and writers to her artist colony in Taos, New Mexico including:
  • Georgia O’Keefe
  • Nicolai Fechin
  • Ansel Adams
  • Martha Graham
  • Laura Gilpin
  • John Marin
  • John Collier
  • Marsden Hartley
  • Paul Strand
  • Andrew Dasburg