Heidegger’s interpretation of Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein
By several accounts, Gertrude Stein posed for Pablo Picasso more than 90 times during the winter of 1905-6. Each session was never quite correct, with many botched attempts and frustrations. Ultimately Picasso sent her away, stating “I can’t see you any longer when I look,” then created a new portrait of her nearly a year later without seeing her again. It was regarded as a curious mask-like visage, not really an accurate representation of Stein at the time. When others remarked that Gertrude Stein did not look like her portrait, Picasso stated “She will.” Eventually Picasso’s belief in the ‘premonitory powers’ of his portraits was affirmed as Stein came to very greatly resemble her portrait, stating in 1938, “I was and I still am satisfied with my portrait; for me, it is I, and it is the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me” (Rodenbeck).Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein is a haunting and pensive work, imbued with a great sense of mystery and pondering. Stein’s gaze is cast to the side, her hands in a gestural position, leaning forward with her chin tilted and lips slightly parted. It is as if she is about to speak and through the body language of her portrait, we envision an ensuing scene where she articulates what she’s been thinking, elaborating with her hands. The essence of Stein’s character is embodied in this posture and gesture, the truth of her being in this physical representation. Knowing nothing of Stein, one would at once understand that this woman is a thinker carefully considering her points and that this intellectual characterization is of fundamental importance to her mode of being.
Picasso has achieved the revelatory effects in this portrait by revealing the truth of Stein through Martin Heidegger’s principle of truth as aletheia, that is, unhiddenness or the experience of something hidden being brought to revelation. By not allowing Stein’s thoughts and words to be heard and capturing her in a frozen moment of paint, Picasso allows a profound understanding of all that she has to say. By concealing the experience of being in her presence and knowing her as an intellectual, he reveals the very truth and nature of her composure and existence. Were this portrait a frozen monument of Stein in a moment of glory, a pristine tribute to her physicality or a photographic and perfect representation, then we could never see the true accuracy of her being and becoming.