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It Was Sweeney

In response to:

A Very Difficult Author from the April 8, 1971 issue

To the Editors:

Virgil Thomson’s article on Gertrude Stein [NYR, April 8] made generous reference to my work on Stein, and commended my discussion of the relation between her writing and cubism. Under these circumstances, I’m in a bad position to find fault with anything in his article, but there is one point of fact in it which needs correction. Mr. Thomson writes: “[Katz’s] attribution of a source [pre-Roman Iberian sculptures exhibited at the Louvre in the spring of 1906] for the painting style of the head in the Picasso portrait of Gertrude Stein is brand-new.” The discovery isn’t mine but James Johnson Sweeney’s, which he first records in an article in Art Bulletin, September, 1941. My article in the Museum of Modern Art catalogue, “Four Americans in Paris,” credits this source, in a footnote which Mr. Thomson inadvertently overlooked.

Leon Katz

Carnegie-Mellon University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Virgil Thomson replies:

Professor Katz’s correction is exact, also welcome. I had earlier learned of my slip-up from Robert Rosenblum, Professor of Fine Arts at New York University.

Gertrude Stein, writing her Picasso monograph in 1938, did not know the point, since the highly competent Jim Sweeney first remarked it only in 1941. Certainly the Paris art world had believed for many years that the head in the Gertrude Stein portrait of 1906 was derived from African sources rather than Iberian, though there may well have been in fact a bit of both. Whether Picasso in all those more than thirty years ever had thoughts on the matter, he certainly did not share them with his close friend Gertrude. Nor with anyone else, to my knowledge, admittedly meager.

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