Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: a life is a life is a life…

By Stephen Eaker

Alice and Gertrude

The life that is the life of the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is a story of two lives as one and one life as two: an artist and a muse, a couple, a love and a bond that lasted for almost 40 years until Gertrude’s death in 1946 from intestinal cancer. This extraordinary partnership began and ended with tragedy, from an earthquake to ill health and dire poverty for an unrecognized widow.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas:
a life is a life is a life…
Wed, Jun 18, 4:30 and 6:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde annex
45 San Jorge
Colonia San Antonio
130 pesos per person
Reservations: 121-1026 or

The years in between were some of the most exciting, fascinating and scariest of the 20th century. From their grand salons in Paris, where Matisse, Picasso and Cézanne paintings covered the walls; to the front lines of World War 1, driving a Ford ambulance called “Auntie¨ to help transport the wounded to hospitals; to the years of the roaring 1920s, when one afternoon a young writer by the name of Ernest Hemingway came and knocked at the door and was first met by Alice as he stood there with his letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson—a writer and friend of Gertrude—the lives of these two women were filled with extravagant adventures, talented geniuses, incredible food, fabulous art, wonderful gossip and challenging controversy, all of which I shall reveal to you.

Both were of Jewish backgrounds, but they came from two different worlds. Born into money and privilege, Gertrude was world-traveled and spoke three languages by the age of five, began to write at eight and developed a lifelong passion for sentences. While being supported by a monthly stipend from her well-to-do family, Gertrude settled in Paris with her brother Leo in 1903. Their eldest brother Michael and his wife Sarah followed soon thereafter. In Paris, the four Steins began to assemble one of the greatest and most revolutionary painting collections of the 20th century.

The other, Alice Babette Toklas, was born into a middle-class family in San Francisco. She trained to become a concert pianist, but she abandoned this ambition at the death of her mother, devoting herself to her family. Immediately after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Michael Stein and his wife traveled from Paris back to California to survey the damage and to see if the family business had survived. Michael and Sarah also brought with them several paintings by Henri Matisse, the first of his paintings ever to enter the United States of America, as well as the first examples of French Modern Art ever displayed in the US. Alice B. Toklas met Michael and Sarah Stein, admired their paintings and was mesmerized by their amazing stories of Paris. She then decided to go there herself, arriving in the City of Lights on September 8, 1907. On her first day in the art capital of the world, she met Gertrude Stein. The attraction was immediate for both women, and the wondrous story of two lives as one and one life as two thus began.


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