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Paris The Left Bank - Gertrude Stein


As the plaque at the front of this otherwise non-descript bourgeois building still attests, the American writer and aesthetic power-broker held her world-famous gatherings of cognoscenti at #27 Rue de Fleurus, just off the Boulevard Raspail, and a five minute walk from the western entrance to the Luxembourg Gardens. Synonymous with the word “Salon”, the Radcliffe graduate moved from the U.S. to Paris in 1903 and soon became a magnet for ambitious ex-pats including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Thornton Wilder, as well as a few Europeans including Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The walls at the two-story courtyard-facing apartment were covered with a growing collection of carefully curated works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Delacroix and Renoir, as well as the many other contemporaries who went there. Indeed, it was the compelling collection of artworks that proved the original spur for the gatherings, according to Stein, as it became an unofficial showroom for the creations of Cézanne and Matisse, to the point where Saturday evenings soon became a fixture in the calendar at the home of Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas. Stein laid claim at one of the sessions to have coined the phrase “The Lost Generation”, referring to those whose coming of age intersected with the First World War, although Hemingway, with whom she had an up and down relationship over the years, was also keen to claim credit for popularising the poignant meme. Not all the visitors to the Rue de Fleurus, though, were left in awe. Upon return to Dublin from a trip to Paris, the writer Brendan Behan was asked about his impressions of the capital and he answered in his inimitable style: “I met Gertrude Stein, but I’d prefer a bottle of wine. And I met Alice B. Toklas, but I’d prefer a box of chocolates.” 27 Rue de Fleurus, 75006.

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