The Steins Collect at the Metropolitan Museum is Blake Gopnik's Daily Pic

The Musée d’Orsay, Paris on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon

Museum shows about collectors are usually either scholastic social history or obvious sucking-up to future donors. That’s why I didn’t exactly run to take in “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde,” at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I was wrong. The exhibition is almost perfect, on all kinds of levels. Its objects are fabulous. Its Cézannes alone – including his “Bathers”, from about 1892, which is today’s Daily Pic – could repay hours of looking. (Which is close to what I gave them, on one of several visits.) Its Matisses and Picassos provide a lovely lesson on the birth of modernism. And the people who collected these pictures – the great eccentric Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo and Michael and sister-in-law Sarah – are completely fascinating. As Americans living in Paris in the early years of the last century, they got in on the ground-floor of radical modern art – at first, because they couldn’t afford the better-known Impressionists they wanted – and helped give it the support it needed to take off. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show that balanced art and history as well as this one does.

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