Tour of Exhibition Portrait Index Catalog and Traveling Exhibition
Alice B. Toklas 1877–1967
Pavel Tchelitchew's mouthless portrait of Alice B. Toklas, author Gertrude Stein's lifelong partner, suggests her silent but controlling personality. Toklas, the more reserved of the pair, played a critical role in evaluating individuals who aspired to be part of their famous Paris salon. Initially accepting Tchelitchew, Toklas ultimately rejected him, concluding, "If you go into Pavlik too deeply, you'll find a weakness."

Tchelitchew, a young Russian émigré, was fascinated with the metaphysical concept of the simultaneity of forms, seeking to find continuity between human and inanimate shapes. "I wanted the form to be uninterrupted, to continue equally in and outwards," he explained. In his portrait of Toklas, the face and head is conceived as a flattened oval. The layering of color planes suggests the influence of Paul Cézanne. Tchelitchew, who eventually moved to the United States, never forgave Toklas's disapproval, telling an audience many years later that he hoped to prove to "Miss Alice B. Toklas . . . that painters not only paint but can think sometimes."

Pavel Tchelitchew (1898–1957)
Gouache on paper, circa 1926–1928
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Home | Teacher's Guide | Credits | Comments | Copyright