A version of this paper by Edward Burns, titled “So I Went on Looking at Pictures: Gertrude Stein’s Last Decade,” was delivered as part of Sundays at the Met, April 29, 2012, in conjunction with the exhibition The Steins Collect.
How did two Jewish lesbian women manage to survive in France during the Second World War, particularly after the line of demarcation ended in November 1942 and the Vichy government began to follow the stricter laws enacted by the Nazi government in Paris? How, too, did a well-known collection of modern art, with masterpieces by Picasso, Juan Gris, and Cézanne escape looting to survive intact during the occupation of Paris? Much has been made in recent years about Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas remaining in France during World War II. Their failure to return to the United States in 1939, and the discovery that Stein translated and wrote an introduction to a book of speeches by Marshal Pétain, has raised questions about her politics. Her failure to identify herself in her writings as Jewish has also entered the conversation.