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Hedda Sterne

Hedda Sterne
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, USA
Nationality Romanian
Education University of Bucharest (1928) Self Taught
Known for Painter; printmaking
Notable work(s) Machine 5, Diary
Movement Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism

Hedda Sterne (born Hedwig Lindenberg; August 4, 1910 – April 8, 2011)[1] was an artist best remembered as the only woman in a group of Abstract Expressionists known as "The Irascibles" which consisted of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and others. Sterne was the only woman photographed with the group by Nina Leen for Life magazine in 1950. In her artistic endeavors she 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]

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] In 1944 she married Saul Steinberg the Romanian-born American cartoonist and illustrator, best known for his work for The New Yorker.

During the late 1940s she became a member of The Irascible Eighteen, a group of abstract painters who protested the Metropolitan Museum of Art's policy towards American painting of the 1940s and who posed for a famous picture in 1950; members of the group besides Sterne included: 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.[3]

Her 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. She turned 100 in August 2010.[4]


  • Biography 1
    • Chronology 1.1
    • Quotes 1.2
    • The Irascibles 1.3
  • Legacy 2
  • Career 3
    • Artistic style 3.1
  • Artworks 4
  • Awards 5
  • One Woman Shows 6
  • Selected group shows 7
  • Collections 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Sterne was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1910 as Hedwig Lindenberg. Born to Simon Lindenberg, a high school language teacher, and Eugenie (Wexler) Lindenberg. She was the second child with her only sibling, Edouard, who later became a prominent conductor in Paris.[5]

Sterne was raised with artistic values from a young age, most notably, her tie to Surrealism, which stemmed from a family friend, Victor Brauner.[5] Sterne was homeschooled until age 11. Upon graduating from high school in 1927, at age 17, she attended art classes in Vienna, then had a short attendance at the University of Bucharest studying philosophy and art history before she dropped out to pursue artistic training independently.[6] She spent time traveling, especially to Paris developing her technical skills as both a painter and sculptor. Hedda Sterne 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 1944 she remarried Saul Steinberg and became a U.S. citizen. It is not mentioned if she ever had children. She was involved in many shows and exhibits in New York and practiced her art up until macular degeneration set in and she could no longer paint, but continued to draw. Then, when she was 94 years old, Sterne had a stroke that affected her vision and movement and thereafter was unable to make art at all.[7]


  • 1910 – Born in Bucharest, Romania
  • 1919 – Her father Simon dies and her mother remarries Leonida Cioara, the partner in their family business
  • 1927 – Finishes high school
  • 1928 – Enters University of Bucharest to study Art History and Philosophy but finds curriculum limiting and leaves after a year to do independent study.
  • 1932 – Marries childhood friend Frederick Stern. They divorced in 1944.
  • 1939 – Outbreak of World War II
  • 1941 – Barely escaping a massacre of Jews in her apartment building Hedda flees to New York. Meets Peggy Guggenheim, through which she meets several artists
  • 1944 – Marries Saul Steinberg and becomes a U.S. citizen
  • 1950 – Named one of country's best artists under age of 36 in the March 20 issue of Life. Signs a letter to President of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 20 to protest aesthetically conservative group-exhibition juries.[5] All signers are dubbed "The Irascibles" in an articles about the letter wherein the famous Nina Leen photograph of the artists is published for the first time.
  • 1960 – Sterne and Steinberg separate but remain close friends. Begins to disengage socially with the art world and leads an increasingly private life.
  • 1992 – In November, meets the art dealer Philippe Briet, the beginning of a sustainable friendship leading to several projects, which will be interrupted by his prematured death in February 1997. In October 1994, he introduces writer Michel Butor to Hedda Sterne, being at the origin of their collaboration for the book he would publish in September 1995, La Révolution dans l'Arboretum.
  • 1997 – Macular degeneration causes Sterne to stop painting; however she continues drawing
  • 1999 – Her second husband Saul Steinberg dies
  • 2004 – Suffers stroke. Makes a remarkable recovery but her eyesight fails causing her to stop practicing her art.
  • 2006 – "Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne; A Retrospective" is written.[5]
  • 2010 – Sterne reaches her 100th birthday in August
  • 2011 - Dies in New York at age 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."


The Irascibles

Sterne the only woman in a group of artists who were dubbed "The Irascibles". The term was coined to represent the group consisting of 18 prominent artists of their day, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. These artists were also thought to be a part of the New York School as well as Sterne (although she 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 infamous Nina Leen photograph was published of 15 members of "The Irascibles".[5]


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.



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.[10]

Artistic style

"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".[11] 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 just worked and made her art as she pleased and how she pleased without having a single concern to try to define her art into any category. "Although she never developed a signature style, Ms. Sterne's explorations have produced a small universe of evocative images".[12]





One Woman Shows

  • 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)[13]

Selected group shows

  • 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.[13]
  • 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


  • Eleanor C Munro. Originals : American women artists (New York : Da Capo Press, 2000) (Worldcat link: [1]) ISBN 0-306-80955-9; ISBN 978-0-306-80955-2
  • Hedda Sterne; Sarah L Eckhardt; Josef Helfenstein; Lawrence Rinder; Krannert Art Museum.; University of Virginia. Uninterrupted flux : Hedda Sterne, a retrospective. (Champaign, Ill. : Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, 2006) (Worldcat link: [2]) ISBN 1-883015-37-5; ISBN 978-1-883015-37-4
  • Hedda Sterne; Queens Museum of Art. Hedda Sterne, forty years : the Queens Museum, February 2–April 14, 1985. (Flushing, N.Y. : The Museum, 1985) (Worldcat link: [3]) OCLC 12215770
  • Marika Herskovic, New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000.) ISBN 0-9677994-0-6. p. 38
  • Michel Butor, Hedda Sterne, La Révolution dans l'Arboretum (New York: Philippe Briet Editions, 1995). A collection of four poems by Michel Butor written for Hedda Sterne, and fifteen drawings by Hedda Sterne selected by Michel Butor from four series. Published in 500 copies, this work was printed in May 1995 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The fifteen color plates are of the same dimensions as the original drawings. The set of twelve folios is presented in a white case made in Phoenix, Arizona.


  • "U.Va. Art Museum Exhibits Works by Abstract Impressionist Hedda Sterne", "UVa Today," January 2, 2007. Accessed July 25, 2007.
  • Glueck, Grace. "Art in Review; Hedda Stern", "New York Times", March 10, 2006. Accessed April 13, 2008.
  • Simon, Joan. "Patterns of thought: Hedda Sterne". Art in America, 95.2 2007. 110-59


  1. ^ Hedda Sterne, America's Last Original Abstract Expressionist and Sole Woman in the Group, DiesArt Daily, 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. ^ retrieved October 25th 2008The Irascibles,
  4. ^ Kate (2010-12-09). "Hedda Sterne’s True Expression". Gorey Memorabilia. My Local Muse. Retrieved 2010-12-14. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Eckhardt, 2006
  6. ^ Simon, 2007
  7. ^ Simon, Joan. Patterns of thought: Hedda Sterne. Art in America, 2007.
  8. ^ Sterne, Hedda from Eckhardt's Flux, 2006
  9. ^ Helfenstein, Josef. Foreword in Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne, a retrospective. Champaign, Ill.: Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, 2006.
  10. ^ Eckhardt, 2006.
  11. ^ Glueck, Grace. Hedda Sterne.The New York Times. March 10, 2006.
  12. ^ Glueck, 2006
  13. ^ a b c d e Portraits. Lee Ault & Company, New York, N. Y.. October 15 - November 8, 1975
  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

  • The New York Times obituary
  • ArtDaily obituary
  • , NY Review of BooksThe Last IrascibleSarah Boxer,
  • on Hedda Sterne
  • Images of Sterne's work from the Moma Collection
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