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Hedda Sterne papers, 1939-1977

Biographical Note

Painter Hedda Sterne (1910-2011) lived in New York City and was known for working in many artistic styles, including surrealism and abstract expressionism. She was the only woman in the group of abstract expressionists known as "The Irascibles."
Sterne was born in Bucharest, Romania to Simon Lindenberg, a high school language teacher, and his wife Eugenie. Her early interest in art was encouraged by her family and, after graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, she traveled to Vienna to study art. In 1932, she married childhood friend and businessman Frederick Stern. Through the 1930s, she continued to develop as an artist, traveling between Bucharest and Paris, where she attended Fernand Léger's atelier for a time. In 1938, her work with torn paper collages at that year's Paris Salon caught the eye of Hans Arp, who convinced her to exhibit at Peggy Guggenheim's London gallery. The chaos and persecution of Jews during World War II precipitated Sterne's arrival in America, where she joined her husband in New York City.
In New York, Peggy Guggenheim welcomed Sterne into her circle of artist friends and invited her to exhibit in Guggenheim's gallery in New York City, Art of This Century. In 1944, Sterne married Saul Steinberg, the artist known for his New Yorker drawings, and became a U.S. citizen. Through the 1940s, Sterne created works in realist and surrealist styles, but by the late 1940s, she began exploring abstract expressionism. In 1943, Sterne exhibited at the Wakefield Gallery, where she met the gallery manager Betty Parsons and where she received her first one woman show in 1945. After Betty Parsons opened her own gallery in 1946, Sterne joined Parsons' stable and continued to meet and befriend other prominent abstract artists. In 1950, she signed an open letter along with 14 other artists protesting the Metropolitan Museum's conservatism towards abstract art. This led to a feature article in Life magazine where she was the only woman to be photographed alongside "The Irascibles." This group included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Ad Reinhardt, among others. Through the 1950s, Sterne continued to explore new avenues of art by painting cityscapes, abstract mechanical structures, portraits, and faces, and by using mediums ranging from oil, spray paint, pen and ink, pencil, and diary/text reproductions on stretched canvas.
In 1960, Sterne and Steinberg separated but remained friends until his death in 1999. The recipient of numerous awards and one woman shows, retrospectives of her work were exhibited at the Montclair Art Museum (1977), Queens Museum of Art (1985), and the Krannert Art Museum (2006). Sterne died in her home in Manhattan in 2011 at the age of 100.