Alice Babette Toklas (1877-1967) is best remembered as the pseudo-subject of Gertrude Stein’s memoirs, but this American woman was an integral part of the flourishing art and literature scene in early 20th-century Paris.
Toklas’s early life was unremarkable growing up on the west coast in a middle-class Jewish family. It was upon moving to Paris in 1907 that her life changed forever. Meeting Gertrude Stein, the two became inseparable with Toklas serving as a secretary, cook, confident, and most importantly lover to the formidable character of Stein. Together the two women conducted a salon where the greatest figures in art and literature met and gathered, with Stein becoming the patron of many, including most notably Picasso and Matisse.
Gertrude Stein wrote the well-known Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), where Toklas serves as the narrator chronicling her life, though in reality it is Stein’s life being detailed. The book was a commercial success though it angered some of the characters represented within. Toklas wrote her own memoir in the form of a cookbook, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), which notably contained a recipe for marijuana brownies called “Haschich Fudge.”
After Stein’s death in 1946, Toklas seemed lost without her lover and companion. In an age when homosexuality was not accepted, Toklas had no legal claim to the collection left to her. Many valuable works were taken by Stein’s family leaving Toklas with little means to support herself. In 1967, upon her death, Alice B. Toklas was buried near her dear partner in the Pere Lachiase Cemetery in Paris. These two women were brave in their public devotion to each other and support of artistic movements that broke from tradition.
Always remembered in conjunction with Gertrude Stein, today, in honour of her birthday, we celebrate Alice B. Toklas for her contributions to the avant-garde and the course of art history.
Words: Emily Sack © 2012 ArtLyst
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