Art Travel Guide

My Visit to the SFMOMA: The Art and Influence of the Stein Family

Henry Matisse - A favorite artist of the Steins.As I stepped into the SFMOMA, it was clear that the Steins had an enormous impact on this special landmark of San Franciscan Art. The Stein family, were the center of attention and their influence on the art scene of the entire West Coast did not go unappreciated.

The Steins are responsible in many ways for the turn-of-the century revolution in the visual arts through their adventurous patronage, deep ties to leading minds of the era, and legendary Paris salon gatherings. As powerful `tastemakers`, they had a commitment to the new, a confidence in their inclinations, and a drive to build appreciation for the work they loved. From the moment they first dared to admire Matisse’s scandalous Woman with a Hat (1905)—the “nasty smear of paint” that gave the fauves their name—the family was staking claims for modern art that would heavily influence their peers and transform the careers of several of the most important artists of the 20th century such as Henry Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde reunites the unparalleled modern art collections of author Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife, Sarah Stein. Jointly organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris, this major touring exhibition gathers approximately 200 iconic paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and illustrated books not only by Matisse and Picasso, who are each represented by dozens of works, but also by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Juan Gris, Marie Laurencin, Henri Manguin, Francis Picabia, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Félix Vallotton, among others. The Steins Collect premiered at SFMOMA May 21 through September 6, 2011, before traveling to Paris and then New York.

Diego Rivera at the SFMOMA

I had a great time touring the SFMOMA, it is a special place in the heart of bustling San Francisco. However, my personal feeling is that although the city of San Francisco owes a debt of gratitude to the Steins, the art in any museum should take center stage. Paying homage to the Steins is good and well, but let us not forget why we are here for… I quickly skimmed through a rich array of archival materials—including photographs, family albums, film clips, correspondence, and ephemera—the exhibition provides on this influential family and went directly to the awesome Modern Art collection the museum has to offer with their powerful Rothko’s, sublime Juan Miro’s and their beautiful Diego Rivera’s. The museum also has an interesting educational annex created in tandem with Google called “Doodle 4 Google” where you can see kids getting involved in the arts. Seeing kids getting immersed in art as they create art in the middle of the SFMOMA was the highlight of my visit. Talk about getting creative!

In conclusion, the SFMOMA is a great visit, but if you have to choose only one modern art museum in San Francisco, then I would suggest peeking into the de Yung at the Golden Gate Park with their Picasso exhibition.

About the Author

Amitai Sasson of is an art world traveler on a mission to seek out the beauty and passion of the art world. As an avid enthusiast of art and oil paintings, he contributes to as Chief editor and writer.