Let’s take a look at The Irascibles – a portrait of 15 angry young artists that was published in Life magazine in 1951. Their ire stemmed from a recent survey of contemporary painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which the artists felt had been too conservative. The picture has become iconic because it features nearly all of the abstract expressionists.
Front and centre is Barnett Newman. Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock are nearby, a mass of tweed, ties, Brylcreem and cigarette smoke. An alternative title for the picture might have been “cool, rugged-looking artist guys”.
Except one of them is not a guy at all. Capping the group – the “feather on top” as she once put it – is Hedda Sterne, a woman who outlived every other artist in the picture, but who has since slipped almost entirely from the story....
Image: Hedda Sterne, Horizon #3, 1963-65