Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The present portrait depicts Allan Stein, the son of Gertrude and Leo Stein's brother Michael and his wife Sarah (fig. 1). American expatriates living in Paris, Michael and Sarah Stein were among Matisse's most important patrons during the opening years of the twentieth century. In 1905, Sarah encouraged her brother-in-law Leo to purchase Matisse's revolutionary Fauve masterpiece, La femme au chapeau (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), at the Salon d'Automne. She and Michael went on to acquire more than forty paintings and at least a half-dozen bronzes by the artist, most of them dating between 1905 and 1908. In 1916, Matisse painted portraits of the husband and wife (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), who numbered by then among his closest friends. John Klein has written: "As a group the Steins--Gertrude, Leo, Michael, and Michael's wife Sarah--were among the most enthusiastic and perceptive collectors of modern art in Paris in the first decade of the century. The patronage of each was vital to Matisse at one time or another, and Michael and Sarah Stein were lifelong supporters. Each member of the family eventually went his or her own way with regard to the artist's work but in the decade before the First World War, both the patronage and the friendship of this close-knit family of American expatriates was crucial to Matisse" (in Matisse Portraits, New Haven, 2001, p. 150).
Matisse enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Sarah Stein, whom he valued as both a critic and confidante. Thérèse Ehrman, the family's au pair, recalled, "She was the one who fascinated him. He'd come with bundles of pictures under each arm, and Sarah would tell him what she thought of things, sometimes rather bluntly. He'd seem to always listen" (quoted in H. Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, The Early Years, 1869-1908, New York, 1999, p. 382). During the winter of 1907-1908, Sarah received informal instruction in painting from Matisse and was instrumental in helping him to organize a short-lived art academy. She took detailed notes on Matisse's comments during these sessions, which constitute a remarkable record of his views on art. Matisse himself once said admiringly of Sarah Stein, "She knows more about my paintings than I do" (quoted in Four Americans in Paris: The Collection of Gertrude Stein and Her Family, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970, p. 35), and when the Steins returned to the United States in 1935, Matisse wrote to Sarah, "It seems to me that the best part of my audience has gone with you" (quoted in H. Spurling, op. cit., p. 384).
The present canvas is one of two oil portraits that Matisse painted of Allan Stein. The portraits probably date to the late summer of 1907, shortly after Matisse returned to Collioure from a month-long stay with the Stein family (including eleven-year-old Allan) at their villa at Fiesole, near Florence. In the present example, Allan is depicted in a frontal, bust-length format against a vivid pink ground; the second version shows him standing full-length in a hilly landscape, clutching a butterfly net in his hands (Minneapolis Institute of Arts). The subtle stylizations, abstract ground, and hieratic grandeur of both paintings reflect Matisse's study of early Renaissance painting that summer in Florence, Padua, and Arezzo, especially the work of Giotto, for whom he expressed keen admiration. The portraits also capture Allan's distinctive physiognomy, including his round face, fleshy jaw line, full lower lip, slightly crooked nose, and thick cap of curly hair. Matisse seems to have had great affection for Allan, who was a year younger than his daughter Marguerite. In 1906, Matisse gave the boy a whimsical drawing of his own family (see J. Klein, op. cit., p. 88). The following year, he dedicated two drawings to Allan, a sheet of portrait studies of the boy himself and a scene of a sailboat in the harbor at Collioure (see exh. cat., op. cit., New York, 1970, pp. 160-161). The former drawing is inscribed, "A Allan Stein en souvenir de les onze ans affectueusement mai 1907 Henri Matisse," while the latter reads, "A Allain [sic] Stein son ami H. Matisse 7 nov. 07."
In the spring of 1906, the year before Matisse painted Allan, Picasso depicted the boy in a half-length profile portrait (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 353; Baltimore Museum of Art). Gertrude and Leo Stein both sat for Picasso during the same period, although the portrait of Gertrude remained unfinished until the artist's return from Gósol in the fall (Leo: Zervos, vol. 1, no. 250; Baltimore Museum of Art; Gertrude: Zervos, vol. 1, no. 352; The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Klein has remarked, "It seems that Allan Stein became one locus of the competitiveness that marked the relations between the two artists, especially where the Steins as patrons were concerned" (in op. cit., p. 152).
(fig. 1) Michael and Sarah Stein, Henri Matisse, Allan Stein, and Hans Purrmann in the apartment of Michael and Sarah Stein, 1907. Cone Archives, Baltimore Museum of Art. BARCODE 24409834