Monday, April 11, 2011

Hedda Sterne: The last of ‘The Irascibles’

Hedda Sterne, an important artist often associated with the (first generation) abstract expressionist movement, passed away on April 8, 2011. She was 100 years old. Notably, she was active as an artist up to the age of 94! 

Very often we recognize Hedda for her appearance in a highly popular group photograph called ‘The Irascibles’, which was printed in the ‘Life’ magazine in January 1951, captured by Nina Leen. It is an iconic picture, often bundled with the information about the early years of the Abstract Expressionist movement or the ‘New York School’. But the fact is that many of these artists, including Hedda, were not interested in such a tagging and even the group photo is quite contextual. This was a group of New York artists who protested against the orthodox approach of juries at an important group exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eighteen artists signed a letter to protest, and ‘Life’ magazine article coined the term ‘The Irascibles’ in their article talking about the incident. 

Eventually all of these artists became very important names of the Abstract Expressionist movement (along with many others who were not part of the group picture), but sadly, women artists who were closely associated with the philosophy did not receive the recognition that they deserved. Hedda Stern, Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner were quite impressive artists who often participated in group shows and even had solo exhibitions at that time. But, as compared to the almost ‘god like’ recognition that Pollock, Rothko or de Kooning received, women artists were rarely discussed or acknowledged.   

Hedda Sterne was a remarkable artist known for her powerful and very original objective paintings. She was born in Romania and studied in Paris and Vienna before she immigrated to the US during WWII (hence also recognized as one of the influential ‘immigrated artist’ members of the Abstract Expressionist movement). 

Here is the picture of 'The Irascibles’ with some information on the artists who are part of the group. Hedda Stern can be seen standing at a prominent position in the photograph in the top row, an apt placement for the artist who made the female presence felt in the dominantly male world of the American art of the 50s. 
The "Irascibles" in the January 15, 1951 issue of Life magazine 
Front row: 1. Theodoros Stamos (December 31, 1922 – February 2, 1997), 2. Jimmy Ernst (June 24, 1920 - February 6, 1984), 3. Barnett Newman (January 29, 1905 – July 4, 1970), 4. James Brooks  (October 18, 1906 – March 9, 1992), 5. Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970)
Middle row: 6. Richard Pousette-Dart (June 8, 1916 – October 25, 1992), 7. William Baziotes  (June 11, 1912 – June 6, 1963), 8. Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956), 9. Clyfford Still (November 30, 1904 – June 23, 1980), 10. Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991), 11. Bradley Walker Tomlin (August 19, 1899 – May 11, 1955)
Back row: 12. Willem de Kooning (April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997), 13. Adolph Gottlieb  (March 14, 1903 - March 4, 1974), 14. Ad Reinhardt (December 24, 1913 – August 30, 1967), 15. Hedda Sterne (August 4, 1910 – April 8, 2011)


Casey Klahn said...

I'm very glad you told me about this. I will report it, too, with a link here.

AK said...

Debu, you have done what I always wanted someone to do for me. Am a self taught artist with no formal education in this field and no time to go through thick fat history books ! Thanks for making such an interesting blog.

Debu Barve said...

Casey, Thanks.
AK,Thanks. I'm glad that you find my blog useful in your process. Keep reading!

William Hall said...

Very interesting entry! You never disappoint.

Anonymous said...

bonsoir Debu, vous écrivez sincèrement de magnifiques articles; les artistes sont rares qui aiment,parlent et écrivent ainsi pour d'autres artistes, merci;

Debu Barve said...

Dear William and Thige,

Thanks a lot for your encouragement.

Nomi Lubin said...

Wow, look at that red painting. It's like part "Red Studio," part.... I don't know, Paul Klee? part something else magical.

Debu Barve said...

Dear Nomi,

Oh yes reds are quite like 'red studio'!:) I find similarity between Hedda and 'Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's work, she was one amazing expressionist painter. check it out.

Denise Scaramai said...

I enjoyed this post!
a beautiful tribute
to a great artist!

Debu Barve said...

Dear Denise,

Nomi Lubin said...

"I find similarity between Hedda and 'Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's work, she was one amazing expressionist painter."

Oh, my, yes. Fascinating! Thank you. You're the best. Really, I love how you run your site and your open welcoming attitude. Not common.

Lynn said...

Such an inspiring woman. Thanks for posting this.

Debu Barve said...

Thanks Lynn,

Indeed she was amazing!

Anonymous said...

Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

Debu Barve said...


Thank you for your feedback!

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

As an admirer (for lack of a better term) of the Abstract Expressionists, I'm somewhat dismayed that I wasn't previously familiar with Hedda Sterne. No mention of her at all in my university studies, and I hadn't come across her name until now.

I'll be teaching classes this summer on Abstract Expressionist painters (even though many of them resisted the label- a point I plan to make clear in my lessons). I'm adding Sterne's work to the program.

Thank you for your informative blog; I'm following!

Debu Barve said...

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your comment. It is very nice to know that you are going to include Hedda in your classes.Wishing you all the best.

Andrew Graeme Gould said...

A very interesting post, Debu. Now I've learnt something...

Debu Barve said...



Narayan Pillai said...

Thanks for this post Debu another great artist to look out for. Your blog is like an open school that I attend at leisure so I can savour every bit of information. Keep up the good work:)

Debu Barve said...


Thanks for your comment. I am glad that you find my blog useful.

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