Hedda Sterne

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Hedda Sterne
The Irascibles 1950 Nina Leen Time Life Pictures Getty Images.jpg
Pictured with The Irascibles (in back)
Born Hedwig Lindenberg
(1910-08-04)August 4, 1910
Bucharest, Romania
Died April 8, 2011(2011-04-08) (aged 100)
New York City, New York, United States
Nationality Romanian
Education University of Bucharest (1928) Self Taught
Known for Painter; printmaking
Notable work Machine 5, Diary
Movement Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism

Hedda Sterne (born Hedwig Lindenberg; August 4, 1910 – April 8, 2011)[1] was an artist who created a body of work known for exhibiting a stubborn independence from styles and trends, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, with which she is often associated.[2] She was a member of a group of Abstract Expressionists known as "The Irascibles" and was the only woman in a famous photograph which included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and others.

Sterne has been almost completely overlooked in art historical narratives of the post-war American art scene. At the time of her death, possibly the last surviving artist of the first generation of the New York School, Hedda Sterne viewed her widely varied works more as in flux than as definitive statements.[2]

Her second husband was Saul Steinberg the Romanian-born American cartoonist and illustrator. Sterne's works are in the collections of museums including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, also in Washington, D.C.


Sterne was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1910 as Hedwig Lindenberg. Her parents were Simon Lindenberg, a high school language teacher, and Eugenie (Wexler) Lindenberg. She was the second child; her only sibling, Edouard, later became a prominent conductor in Paris.[3] In 1919, her father Simon died and her mother remarried Leonida Cioara, the partner in their family business.

Sterne was raised with artistic values from a young age, most notably, her tie to Surrealism, which stemmed from a family friend, Victor Brauner.[3] Sterne was homeschooled until age 11. Upon graduating from high school in 1927, she attended art classes in Vienna, then had a short attendance at the University of Bucharest studying philosophy and art history. She found the curriculum limiting, and dropped out to pursue artistic training independently.[4] She spent time traveling, especially to Paris, and developing her technical skills as both a painter and sculptor.

She married a childhood friend, Frederick Stern, in 1932 when she was 22. In 1941 she escaped a certain death from Nazi encroachment during World War II when she fled to New York to be with Frederick. In 1941 she met Peggy Guggenheim, through whom she met several artists. In 1944 she divorced Stern and married Saul Steinberg, and became a U.S. citizen.

In 1950 she was named one of country's best artists under age of 36 in the March 20 issue of Life. Two months later, on May 20, 1950, Sterne and 17 other artists signed a letter to the president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to protest aesthetically conservative group-exhibition juries.[3] All signers were dubbed "The Irascibles" in an article about the letter wherein the famous Nina Leen photograph of the artists was published for the first time. Although the sculptors Louise Bourgeois and Mary Callery were among the signers of the letter, Hedda Sterne was the only woman in the photograph. This singularity made her name known to many who were unfamiliar with her work; as she remarked near the end of her life, "I am known more for that darn photo than for 80 years of work."[5]

Sterne and Steinberg separated in 1960 but remained close friends. Sterne began to disengage socially from the art world, and led an increasingly private life. She was involved in many shows and exhibits in New York. In November 1992 she met the art dealer Philippe Briet, and began a sustainable friendship which led to several projects until his death in February 1997. In October 1994, Briet introduced writer Michel Butor to Hedda Sterne, being at the origin of their collaboration for the book he published in September 1995, La Révolution dans l'Arboretum.

Sterne practiced her art until macular degeneration set in. In 1997 she could no longer paint, but continued to draw. In 1999 her second husband Saul Steinberg died. In 2004, at the age of 94, Sterne had a stroke that affected her vision and movement and thereafter was unable to make art at all.[6]

In 2006, "Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne; A Retrospective" was published.[3] Hedda Sterne died on April 8, 2011, at the age of 100.


  • "I have a feeling that in art the need to understand and the need to communicate are one."
  • "Nobody tried to influence me, I just worked."
  • "I always thought that art is not quote self-expression but communication."
  • "It's malentendu to consider me Abstract Expressionist. I was invited to participate in many things, but I never considered myself part of that group, or any group, and it shows in my work."
  • "I cannot stand that every time people talk about you they immediately want to place you in a box—influenced by so and so...But you do not derive directly from anyone."
  • "My idea being that for the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you do not have to look far away. You have to know how to see."
  • "I always painted ideas, I have to say. It was always some set of ideas that get me going."



Sterne's career did not bloom until she came to New York, even though she had had a few exhibitions in Romania. She showed her work for the first time in a group show, the 11th Exposition du Salon des Surindépendants, in Paris in 1938. Sterne was included in group and independent art shows throughout her entire career.[8]

The Irascibles[edit]

Main article: The Irascibles

Sterne was one of the artists who were dubbed "The Irascibles". The term was coined to represent the group consisting of 18 prominent artists of their day, including Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Jimmy Ernst, Jackson Pollock, James Brooks, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Theodoros Stamos, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko.[9] These artists were also thought to be a part of the New York School (although Sterne preferred not to be aligned with any artistic group). "The Irascibles" are the artists who signed a letter protesting conservative group-exhibition juries to the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were referred to as The Irascibles in an article featured in an issue of Life where the famous Nina Leen photograph was published of 15 members of "The Irascibles".[3]


Sterne was awarded second prize at the Art Institute of Chicago Annual in 1957. In 1963, she was granted a Fulbright Fellowship, and studied in Venice. In 1967, her work won first prize at the Art Institute of Newport Annual. The American Academy of Arts & Letters awarded her a "Childe Hassam Purchase Award" in 1971, and a "Hassam and Speicher Purchase Fund Award" in 1984.[10]

Artistic style[edit]

Sterne never liked to define her art or herself into any group socially or artistically; she never followed a boundary of a certain style. She was a self-taught, uninfluenced artist who made her art as she pleased without concern to try to define her art into any category. Grace Glueck wrote: "Hedda Sterne views her widely varied works more as "in flux" than as definitive statements. She has maintained a stubborn independence from styles and trends, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism ... Although she never developed a signature style, Ms. Sterne's explorations have produced a small universe of evocative images".[11]


In 2006 the art historian Josef Helfenstein wrote:

From the very beginning of her outstanding but unknown career, Sterne maintained an individual profile in the face of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, all of whom she knew personally. Her independence reflected an immense artistic and personal integrity. The astonishing variety of Sterne's work, spanning from her initial appropriation of surrealist techniques, to her investigation of conceptual painting, and her unprecedented installations in the 1960s, exemplify her adventurous spirit. Yet, the heterogeneity of her styles, and her complete disinterest in the commercially driven art world, have contributed to her exclusion from the canon. When the heroic male narratives of modernism begin to fade, we may, eventually, be ready to recognize this amazingly idiosyncratic body of work. Sterne's art is, indeed, a manifesto in favor of the untamable forces of the mind and the continually changing flux of life.[12]

In 2016, some of Sterne's work was exhibited at Van Doren Waxter under the title “Machines 1947-1951”. The New York Times wrote:

Her first show at the gallery, it features paintings and monotype prints that were made at the same moment: the decade after Ms. Sterne arrived in New York from Bucharest, Romania, having barely escaped the Nazis. These muted, mostly tan and blue canvases depict machines inspired by farm equipment in Vermont, and reveal her sometime alliance with the Surrealists (especially a fellow Romanian artist, Victor Brauner). Anthropomorphic and uncanny, the paintings in “Machines” also recall the work of Francis Picabia, Eduardo Paolozzi and Lee Lozano... It is wonderful to see Ms. Sterne finally coming out from behind the famous photograph and being seriously considered as a painter.[13]



One Woman Shows[edit]

  • 1945 – Wakefield Gallery, NY
  • 1945 – Mortimer Brandt Gallery, NY
  • 1947 – Betty Parsons Gallery, '48, '50 '53, '54, '57, '58, '61, '63, '66, '68, '70, '74, '75, '78
  • 1953 – Galleria dell'Obelisco, Rome, '61
  • 1953 – Museo de Arte, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 1955 – Arts Club of Chicago
  • 1956 – Vassar College
  • 1956 – Saidenberg Gallery
  • 1968 – Rizzoli Gallery
  • 1971 – Sneed Gallery
  • 1972 – Clinton, New Jersey
  • 1973 – Upstairs Gallery, East Hampton
  • 1973 – "Hedda Sterne: Recent Painting", Rush Rhees Gallery, University of Rochester, NY (November 26 – December 15)
  • 1975 – "Hedda Sterne: Portraits", Lee Ault & Company, New York (October 15 – November 8)
  • 1977 – "Hedda Sterne: Retrospective Exhibition", Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey (April 24 – June 26)
  • 1982 – "Hedda Sterne: A Painting in Life", CDS Gallery, New York (March 17 – April 12)
  • 1985 – "Hedda Sterne: Forty Years", retrospective, Queens Museum of Art, New York (February 2 – April 14)
  • 1993 – "Hedda Sterne", Philippe Briet Gallery, New York (January 23 – February 27)
  • 1995 – "Hedda Sterne, New Paintings", CDS Gallery, New York (February 18 – March 31)
  • 1998 – "Hedda Sterne: Dessins [1939-1998]," Bibliothèque Municipale, Caen (April 1–30)[10]

Selected group shows[edit]

  • 1943 – Art of This Century gallery, N.Y., "Exhibition of 31 Women"
  • 1949 - Whitney Museum Annual, '59, '67
  • 1951 - Los Angeles County Museum
  • 1951 - Third Tokyo International Art Exhibition
  • 1954 - Art Institute of Chicago Annual, '55, '57, '60, '61
  • 1955 - Museum of modern Art
  • 1955 - Corcoran Gallery Annual, Washington, D.C., '56, '58, '63
  • 1955 - Whitney Museum, "New Decade Show"
  • 1955 - Carnegie International, '58, '61, '62, '64
  • 1955 - Rhode Island School of Design, '56
  • 1956 - Venice Biennial
  • 1956 - Smithsonian Institution
  • 1956 - Art Institute of Chicago, "American Artists Paint the City"
  • 1957 - Minnesota Institute of Art, "American Painting"
  • 1958-59 - American Federation of Arts, University of Iowa, "Contemporary American Paintings"
  • 1960 - Mexico City Biennial
  • 1961 - Art Institute of Chicago, "Painting & Sculpture"
  • 1962 - Molton Gallery, London "Four American Painters"
  • 1964 - Cincinnati Art Museum
  • 1964 - Das Kunstwerk, "The Work of Art"
  • 1966 - Heron Museum of Art
  • 1969 - Phillips Collection, Westmoreland Museum
  • 1971 - Finch College, "Artists at Work"
  • 1972 - Guild Hall, East Hampton, "Then & Now"
  • 1971 - Minnesota Museum of Art, "Drawings USA/71"
  • 1971 - Heckscher Museum, Huntington, N.Y.[10]
  • 1983, May 25-June 18, Betty Parsons Gallery. Mino Argento, Jack Youngerman, David Budd, Calvert Coggeshall, Cleve Gray, Lee Hall, Minoru Kawabata, Richard Pousette-Dart, Leon Polk Smith, Hedda Sterne, Ed Zutrau and Sari Dienes (among others).[14]
  • 1994 - Galerie de l'École des Beaux-Arts, Lorient, "Le Temps d'un Dessin", curated by Philippe Briet, drawings by 86 artists living in the United States (March 16-April 6).


See also[edit]




  1. ^ Art Daily, Hedda Sterne, America's Last Original Abstract Expressionist and Sole Woman in the Group, Dies Retrieved April 10, 2011
  2. ^ a b Sterne, Hedda, Sarah L Eckhardt, Josef Helfenstein, and Lawrence Rinder. Uninterrupted flux : Hedda Sterne, a retrospective. Champaign, Ill.: Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d e Eckhardt, 2006
  4. ^ Simon, 2007
  5. ^ Schwabsky, Barry (May 25, 2015). "Inside Out". The Nation: 27–30.
  6. ^ Simon, Joan. Patterns of thought: Hedda Sterne. Art in America, 2007.
  7. ^ Sterne, Hedda from Eckhardt's Flux, 2006
  8. ^ Eckhardt, 2006.
  9. ^ The Irascibles, retrieved October 25th 2008
  10. ^ a b c d Portraits. Lee Ault & Company, New York, N. Y.. October 15 - November 8, 1975
  11. ^ Glueck, Grace. Hedda Sterne.The New York Times. March 10, 2006.
  12. ^ Helfenstein, Josef. Foreword in Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne, a retrospective. Champaign, Ill.: Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, 2006.
  13. ^ Schwendener, Martha (24 March 2016), Review: Beyond Irascible, the Art of Hedda Sterne, The New York Times, retrieved 26 March 2016 
  14. ^ The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian, Betty Parsons Gallery Papers, Reel 4087-4089: Exhibition Records, Reel 4108: Artists Files, last names A-B.

External links[edit]