In their Parisian salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas welcome the greatest artists of the era: Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse, Fitzgerald. The context of the two World Wars will alter the quick wit and sense of mischief that was part of the famous couple’s daily life.
Alice B. Toklas sits in her living room at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris and conjures the world she shared with Gertrude Stein by knitting the memories of their past back to life.
Gertrude enters the salon and invites her guests to peruse her collection, praising the genius of the artists she supports. Pablo Picasso reveals his own portrait of Gertrude in a ceremony that is met with disdain by Leo Stein and a bit of jealousy by Henri Matisse. Leo announces he is moving to Italy, and storms out. Gertrude and Alice toast his departure and sing of the ringing bells of genius that celebrate their love.
Gertrude and Alice weather the First World War in Paris. Gertrude continues to write as the cold sets in and food becomes scarce. An American doughboy stationed in Paris becomes a friend, providing them with coal and cigarettes but failing to return with sought-after eggs… another boy added to the tally of the lost generation.
After the war, Gertrude’s attention shifts from painters to writers, as she welcomes the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as the photographer Man Ray. Ernest and “Scotty” are desperate for Gertrude’s endorsement, so she encourages them to wrestle for her attention—she will announce the winner a genius. As the next war approaches, the writers are expelled from the salon.
Gertrude and Alice survive the Second World War by sacrificing paintings. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude preys on her conscience, asking her to explain how a Jewish-American authoress survived Nazi-occupied France. The guilt eats away at her, and she dies in Alice’s arms.
Alice, now alone, is surprised by the return of Picasso. Together they say goodbye to the portrait of Gertrude as it is being shipped to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Picasso sketches an image of Gertrude for Alice as the bells of genius and love chime once more.