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Patronage II: The Western World since 1900  
 
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Created over a period of several months in 1905-1906, Picasso's Portrait of Gertrude Stein (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) exemplifies the bold and innovative art works favored by Stein. In her book on the artist, Stein maintains that this commission was instrumental in motivating Picasso to devise a modernist equivalent of the monumental pictorial style of the Renaissance. As she explains, this development culminated in Picasso's Desmoiselles d'Avignon (Girls of Avignon, 1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York), widely regarded as one of the seminal works in the history of modernist art. Endorsing Stein's account, most art historians agree that the process of creating her portrait was essential to Picasso's formulation of the early and aptly named heroic phase of Cubism.

In the Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Picasso abandoned traditional formulae for the depiction of women and destabilized gender categories in the way that Stein did in her life. Picasso endows Stein with a forceful, Amazonian presence through several devices, including the large, heroic scale and the simplified, faceted forms.

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At a late stage in the production of this image, Picasso erased the naturalistic face he had initially created and replaced it with a stylized visage, ultimately inspired by African and Iberian sculpture; a line across the neck confirms that Stein's face has been covered by a mask. The result of Picasso's transformation of the head was to create a portrait that seems "strange" and thus queer. Further, the representation of masquerade visualizes the complex process of performing lesbian identity in a society that refuses to acknowledge alternative sexualities.

Prominent Queer Patrons: Serge Diaghilev

Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929, born Sergey Pavlovich Dyagilev), was a Russian collector, patron, and impresario, best known today as the director of the Ballets Russes. The significance of his patronage to the history of modernism cannot be overestimated. He fostered the creation of art that would be as bold and extravagant as his own personality.

The son of a famous Russian general and an aristocrat, Diaghilev had cultivated a flamboyant, dandyish persona by 1890, when he went to St. Petersburg, supposedly to prepare for a career in law. Preferring music, he studied under Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), who discouraged his creative ambitions. After completing his studies in 1894, Diaghilev cultivated friendships with the painter Léon Bakst (1866-1924) and other artists, writers, and musicians, involved in the progressive association Mir Iskusstva (World of Art). In 1898, with his cousin, the painter Dmitry Filosofov, who was his first lover, Diaghilev founded a magazine named after this group, and he edited and published it at his own expense until 1904.

Also between 1897 and 1906, he organized eleven major art exhibitions in St. Petersburg, including seven under the auspices of Mir Iskusstva. Three of these exhibitions introduced Whistler, Renoir, and other recent British and French artists to Russian audiences. Appointed assistant to the Director of the Imperial Theaters in 1899, he edited its journal and staged several operas until 1901, when he was dismissed because his plans for a production of the ballet Sylvia (in collaboration with Mir Iskusstva) were considered too extravagant.

In 1906, feeling increasingly oppressed by in Russia, Diaghilev emigrated to Paris, where he organized an installation (designed by Bakst) of Russian art at the Salon d'Automne, Paris. In 1908, at the Paris Opera, he staged the opera Boris Godunov, with sets and costumes by colleagues from Mir Iskusstva; this production anticipated the spectacle and visual richness that later became a hallmark of the Ballets Russes.

Due to the success of this event, Diaghilev was invited the following year to present an entire season of Russian dance at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. This series, which featured startlingly erotic choreography as well as bold and colorful set designs by Bakst and other Russian painters, introduced to the western European public such brilliant, young Russian dancers as Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978) and Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950). Employing Nijinsky and others from this series, Dighilev founded his own traveling company, the Ballets Russes, in 1911.

Bold and unconventional, many of Dighilev's presentations--most notably, his staging of Stravinksy's Le Sacre du Printemps (Rites of Spring) in Paris (1913)--provoked uproar and controversy. With choreography by Nijinsky and others, the Ballet Russes literally reversed established gender conventions by giving male dancers a predominant (rather than simply supporting) role in productions and by devising aggressive and forceful steps for ballerinas. Through his overtly sensuous movements, Nijinksy (Diaghilev's lover, 1908-12) seemed to be enacting homosexual fantasies on stage.

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