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)