Maurice Sterne

Theme/Style – Modernism, figurative art, portraits, still lifes, genre scenes

Media – Oils, gouaches, watercolors, drawings, printmaking, sculptures in bronze, stone and clay

Artistic Focus – Maurice Sterne was a highly intellectual painter and sculptor whose international study and reputation gave him the sophistication to fuse traditional relationships of form and space with the cutting-edge Modernism of his day. An impeccable draftsman, Sterne exuded a confidence and commitment to rendering the human figure that inspired his student Hassel Smith to recall, “Sterne’s approach to drawing from the model was a revelation.... To whatever extent my intellect has been engaged in the joys and mysteries of transferring visual observations... into meaningful marks and shapes I owe to Sterne.”

Career Highlights –

• Maurice Sterne was born in Latvia in 1878. After coming to New York with his family around 1890, Sterne first studied at Cooper Union, and then attended the National Academy of Design, where he studied anatomy under Thomas Eakins.
• Sterne’s first exhibition was a 1902 group show at New York’s Old Country Sketch Club, and in 1904 he won a traveling scholarship that allowed him to further his art studies in Italy, France, Greece, and finally the Far East. Sterne spent two years in Bali, and was one of the first artists to discover and popularize scenes of that area.
• Sterne returned to New York in 1915, and a year later relocated to Taos, New Mexico, where he married Mabel Dodge, the legendary figure at the center of the area’s colorful colony of artists and writers. According to Dodge, it was in Taos that Sterne’s interest in sculpting deepened; and he also continued his figural drawing and painting, including portraits of Native American subjects. Sterne became one of the directors of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, along with Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, and others.
• Sterne returned to Italy in 1918, where he lived part-time throughout the next decade. Divorced from Mabel Dodge, Sterne married dancer Vera Segal in Vienna in 1923.
• Sterne was included in group shows at the Los Angeles Museum during the 1920s, including the museum’s Pan-American exhibition in 1925. In San Francisco, Sterne’s work was included in shows at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor throughout the late 1920s.
• In 1928 a show of Sterne’s work was launched at Reinhardt Galleries, where he was to exhibit frequently through the early 1930s, including a joint exhibition with Georgia O’Keeffe in 1932.
• On the west coast he exhibited at the “Painters & Sculptors of Los Angeles” show in 1930.
• Also in 1930, Sterne was awarded the first William A. Clark prize and the Corcoran gold medal in the 12th annual exhibition of American painting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as well as an honorable mention prize in the 29th Annual Carnegie International Exhibition of modern painting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for his painting, “High School Girl.”
• In 1932, Sterne contributed a canvas to a show of wall murals at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which also included Jane Berlandina, Edward Biberman, Yun Gee, and Georgia O’Keeffe; and in 1933 a retrospective exhibition of Sterne’s work occupied the museum’s entire building, and marked its first one-man showing for an American artist.
• From 1935 to 1936 Sterne was a visiting instructor of composition and figure drawing at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco.
• Sterne exhibited at the Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1936, and in 1939 he exhibited and won a prize for painting at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Also in 1939, Sterne created a 20-panel mural for the Law Library in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., entitled “The Search for Truth.”
• Sterne resumed teaching in New York, and in 1945 President Truman appointed him to the National Fine Arts Commission, on which he served until 1951.
• He passed away at his home in Mt. Kisco, New York in 1957.