Hedda Sterne

Hedda Sterne (born August 4, 1910, in Bucharest, Romania), is an artist known for maintaining a stubborn independence from styles and trends, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, with which she is often associated.

Hedda Sterne, Life Magazine

Hedda Sterne was born in Bucharest in 1910 as Hedwig Lindenberg. She was the second child with her only sibling, Edouard, who later became a prominent conductor in Paris. Sterne was raised with artistic values from a young age, most notably, her tie to Surrealism, which stemmed from a family friend, Victor Brauner. Sterne was home schooled until age 11. Upon her high school graduation 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. She spent time traveling, especially to Paris developing her technical skills as both a painter and sculptor. She studied with Fernand Leger and Andreé Lhote, first exhibiting with the Surrealists in Paris (in a group show, the 11th Exposition du Salon des Surindépendants, in Paris in 1938). Hedda Sterne married a childhood friend Frederick Sterne in 1932 when she was 22. In 1941 she escaped a certain death from Nazi encroachment during WWII when she fled to New York to be with her husband Frederick Sterne. 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 she had a stroke that affected her vision and movement when she was 94. She is still alive however unable to follow her passions of drawing.

Machine 5

The year 1941 was a landmark year for Sterne as her move to New York was overshadowed by her inclusion in the Art of This Century exhibition, funded by Peggy Guggenheim. It was here where notable dealer Betty Parsons discovered Sterne’s work and gave her a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1943 and it was for this exhibition that Sterne first presented her use of circular canvases to create the Tondo Series. These Tondos are mounted on a central axis so the viewer can turn them at will to gain varying perspectives. A pioneer in her use of both medium and form, Sterne used the tondo throughout the balance of her career. Similar to Pollock, Sterne was also recognized for her divergence from using mediums and forms contemporaneous with the times.

Antro II

The theme of Sterne’s works during the 1940’s and 1950’s was essentially machine-based, whether their nature was Surrealist or completely abstract. Some of her works, including New York Apt. #5, 1955, shown here, are part of her New York series. Depicted in this series are "hurtling trains, derricks, and bridges as though they were looming monsters, in an attempt to portray the pace and power of the big city". Both Pollock and his "drip" and Sterne and her spray paint had a unique relationship with their mediums; the precision of their objectives set the terms upon which their deliverance was so successful. Sterne’s use of acrylic spray paint allowed her to echo speed and motion while also discovering that illusion of depth could be achieved without the use of perspective.

Lettuce (1960, ink and acrylic)

It was also during this time period that she became associated with the New York School, and as a result began using more primary and muted colors. As a result Sterne is also well-known for her semi-abstract cityscape, and non-objective paintings with horizontal bands and stripes of color, as shown here.


When researching Sterne in most art books you will find that she is most famous for being the only woman in a group of rogue 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 prefers 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 in 1950. 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 all members of "The Irascibles".

The Irascibles, Life Magazine, January 15, 1951

Sterne was primarily interested in the desire for invisibility and abandonment of self, in her work, in exchange for receptivity to her environment. While Sterne constantly changed her styles and techniques, regardless of the positive reviews she received, her resistance to imposing any kind of personal identity upon her work was an idea which contrasted sharply with her contemporaries and a desire which ultimately buried her successes as they came along.

Self-portrait (1938)

Her brilliant mind is ruled by a passion for precision. Discipline characterizes her approach to the painter’s life. Sterne’s work is represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Metropolitan, Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Institute, Carnegie Institute, Whitney, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is seldom available.

After Wikipedia, Fine Arts Dealers Association, and other sources.