Long-known as ‘the only female at the birth of abstract expressionism’, Romanian-born Sterne always denied being an abstract painter, and this gem of an exhibition makes it clear why. By Anna McNay
Hedda Sterne. “The only female at [the] birth of abstract expressionism.”1 Friends and neighbours with gallerist Peggy Guggenheim and in the stable of art dealer Betty Parsons. A “great-artist”.
Born Hedwig Lindenberg on 4 August 1910, in Bucharest, Romania, Sterne lived to the grand age of 100, dying in New York City in 2011. She knew she wanted to be an artist from the age of five or six. “I always loved Leonardo,” she told Sarah Boxer, for the New York Review of Books, shortly before she died.2 “Artists were always referred to as great artists. I thought that’s what the profession was. One word: great-artist. There wasn’t one moment in my life when I thought I wanted to be anything else.” And so that is what she became. She began to make a name for herself in Romania, but it was after arriving in New York in 1941, fleeing Nazi-occupied Bucharest, that things really began to happen. Having married and separated from a man named Fritz Stern, she adopted his surname, adding an “e”, maintaining this moniker, despite her marriage to fellow Romanian artist Saul Steinberg, three years later.
Image: Installation view, Victoria Miro Mayfair, 29 January–21 March 2020
All works © The Hedda Sterne Foundation Inc, ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019 Courtesy Van Doren Waxter and Victoria Miro