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 Theresa Ferber Bernstein  (1890 - 2002)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: genre, figure, portrait, and landscape painting

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Theresa Ferber Bernstein
from Auction House Records.
At the Opera
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is an exhibition review for the Art & Design section of The New York Times:

A Long Life Lived in the Shadow of Others
A Theresa Bernstein Retrospective in Philadelphia

By KEN JOHNSON
AUGUST 28, 2014

PHILADELPHIA — Since the publication of Linda Nochlin’s groundbreaking 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” feminist art historians have worked hard to rescue forgotten female figures from oblivion. One interesting candidate for recovery is offered by a traveling exhibition now at the Woodmere Art Museum here. “Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art” presents more than 50 paintings dating from 1912 to 1972. It’s the first retrospective ever dedicated to Ms. Bernstein (1890-2002), who came of age during the heyday of early-20th-century American realism.

Born in Krakow, Poland, Ms. Bernstein came to the United States as a child. She grew up in comfortable circumstances in Philadelphia with parents who generously supported her artistic ambitions. She studied art at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art & Design) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In her early 20s, she moved to New York with her parents and threw herself into the art scene there, exhibiting in many group shows along with Robert Henri, John Sloan, Edward Hopper and others associated with various realist currents.
 
The teens and early ’20s were her most productive and promising years, but though she won prizes and was often positively mentioned in reviews, she never broke into the male-dominated big leagues. Still, she kept on painting for the next eight decades, not stopping until two years before her death, just shy of her 112th birthday. In longevity, she had few rivals.

Organized, with the help of several graduate students, by Gail Levin, a professor of art history, American studies and women’s studies at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the show naturally invites the question of whether Ms. Bernstein deserves promotion to the higher ranks of 20th-century American painters. Ms. Levin thinks she does. In “Forgotten Fame: Inscribing Theresa Bernstein into History,” her essay in the book that accompanies the show, she argues that Ms. Bernstein has been overlooked simply because she was a woman.

Ms. Levin takes it for granted that Ms. Bernstein was a great artist, but the exhibition doesn’t support that conviction. At her best, Ms. Bernstein was a pretty good painter, and there are some fine things here. Especially in some of her early works, she had a sensuous, painterly touch and a compelling way with light.

One of the most arresting, and, at 54 by 60 inches, the show’s biggest canvas, is Carnegie Hall With Paderewski (1914), in which we see from behind the dark figures of a half-dozen raptly listening people, silhouetted against the incandescent glow of a distant stage. The Suffrage Meeting, from the same year, does something similar with the head of an orator rising above a shadowy outdoor crowd silhouetted against golden city lights beyond.

Woman With a Parrot (1917), a suave study of a woman in a slinky dress holding up a bird on one wrist, might have been inspired by Manet’s portrait of a woman and her parrot, Young Lady in 1866, which Ms. Bernstein probably would have known from visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
 
Girlhood (1921), which is in the Phillips Collection in Washington, is an exquisitely sensitive, Cézanne-esque portrait of a pensive seated young woman with a couple of symbolically suggestive peaches on the table before her.

But for every excellent piece in the show, there are numerous nondescript ones, like Flags of the Allies (1918), a muddily impressionistic picture of flag-waving crowds lining a New York street. In The Milliners (1918), a group of women making hats is rendered in a heavy-handed, Social Realist manner. Worst of all is Allies of World War I (1917), which represents a frieze of stock allegorical figures. It looks like a study for something big by an unskilled and unimaginative muralist.

Because of Ms. Bernstein’s tendency to change styles, there are hits and misses. Painted as if by a tag team of van Gogh and Soutine, the domestic outdoor scene pictured in Baby Carriages Laundry Day, Park Slope Brooklyn (circa 1923) takes on a nearly visionary wildness. On the other hand, two gaudy, semi-abstract pictures inspired by jazz, one from 1927 and the other from 1935, are remarkable mainly for anticipating the kitschy illustration of LeRoy Neiman. There are only four paintings from between the ’40s and 1972 — three sketchily impressionistic still lifes and another jazz painting — and they are inconsequential.

One of the exhibition’s most peculiar works, Summer Picnic (1919), depicts the artist herself, sitting outdoors among trees in a voluminous white robe that’s falling off her naked shoulder and a bare-chested man holding an apple. A saccharine yet loving fusion of Cézanne and Renoir, this pastoral idyll celebrates Ms. Bernstein’s marriage to the painter and printmaker William Meyerowitz.

Ms. Bernstein and Mr. Meyerowitz stayed married for more than 60 years, until his death in 1981. By all accounts, it was a happy, mutually supportive marriage. But in her essay, Ms. Levin introduces the impending nuptials of 1919 with this curiously ominous sentence: “Yet Bernstein’s precocious fame and dynamic career were about to suffer.” Ms. Levin thinks that the reason Ms. Bernstein didn’t get her due, besides the prevailing attitudes of the art world, is that she subordinated her own career to her husband’s.

Ms. Levin’s argument would have a lot more force if the exhibition demonstrated a coherent and original artistic vision. A more judicious selection of works would help. As it is, the show gives no reason to believe that Ms. Bernstein was one of the great American artists of the 20th century. That’s not a terrible thing. Most artists, male and female, will be forgotten by all but friends and family. That’s just how it goes.

“Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art” runs through Oct. 26 at the Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia; 215-247-0476, woodmereartmuseum.org.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
The only child of Isidore Bernstein and Anne Ferber, Theresa was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) and the Penn. Academy of F.A. with Daniel Garber, Henry B. Snell and Eliot Dangerfield before moving with her parents to New York City (1911) to study with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League.

She was a member of the National Association of Women Artists; North Shore Art Association (last surviving Charter member); Society of American Etchers; Audubon Artists of America; Allied Artists of America; Plastic Club, Philadelphia; Rockport Art Association; Connecticut Academy of Fine Art; Ten Philadelphia Painters; Society of Independent Artists; Whitney Studio Club; Cape Cod Society of Artists. Awards include Shilliard Gold Medal, Plastic Club, Philadelphia (1928); National Arts Club Prize and Clereci Prize, NAWA; Jeanne D’Arc Medal, French Instititue of Arts and Letters (1938); Pennell Prize, Library of Congress (1945); Peterson Award, NAWA (1955); Matson Memorial Award, Rockport AA (1967); Horgan Award, AA, NYC (`975); Clark Memorial Award, NSAA (1977) and the World Culture Prize, Italian Academy of Art (1983).

One-woman shows include Syracuse Univ. (1921), Albright-Knox Gallery (1922); Grand Central Gallery (1930); Dayton Art Institute (1945); Smithsonian Institution (1948); Columbus Museum of Fine Art, GA (1966); Rockport Art Association (1972); Pierce Galleries, Inc., Hingham, MA, (1984); N.Y. Historical Society (1984);Driscoll & Walsh F.A., Boston (1986); Simmons College (1990); The Crane Collection, Boston (1990); Sragow Gallery, So Ho (1991); The Philadelphia Museum of Judaic, PA (1995) Joan Whalen F.A., NYC (1998).

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute; Butler Institute of Amer. Art; Dallas museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard University; Whitney Museum of Amer. Art; Boston Public Library and N.Y. Historical Society. Married to William Meyerowitz, 1919.

Patricia Jobe Pierce

Biography from MB Fine Art, LLC:
Theresa Bernstein was born in Philadelphia in 1890. She received her art education at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of art) moving to New York City in 1912 and continued her studies in the studio of William Merritt Chase at the Art Students' League. In 1919. she married a fellow artist William Myerowitz and together they met and exhibited with many of the wonderful realists of that exciting era including Robert Henri, John Sloan, Edward Hopper, William Zorach, Milton Avery and John Marin.

A superb colorist and dynamic draftsman, Bernstein captured the energy of the urban scene and the humanity of its diverse population. "The important thing is to maintain the vivacity of your first impression, " she explained. Decade after decade, she chronicled life around her. Her work was frequently cited as masculine by the critics and sometimes distinguished artists who chose paintings for exhibits were surprised to learn that the work they had admired had been painted or etched by a woman. Bernstein may have added to the confusion by sometimes signing her work with her last name only.

Bernstein was a tireless exhibitor. There were many one-person shows in New York including the Museum of the City of New York and Grand Central Galleries. A member of the Philadelphia Ten, her works were in many exhibits, among them, the National Academy of Design, National Association of Women Artists, Audubon Artists and Allied Artists of America and consequently she received a steady stream of prizes.

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, Brooklyn Museum, Chicago Art Institute, Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and the Tel Aviv National Museum in Israel.

Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists A - B:
Theresa F. Bernstein was born in Philadelphia in 1895 to cultured, middle-class immigrant parents.  Bernstein studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, from which she graduated in 1911 with an award for general achievement. From Daniel Garber, her most memorable teacher, she carried forward a plein-air landscape painting with startling color contrasts and bright accents of light.  After a brief enrollment at the Art Students League in New York, where she took life and portraiture classes with William Merritt Chase, she traveled for a second time to Europe with her mother, her first trip abroad having been made in 1905. Never a formal student of Robert Henri, she nonetheless embraced his philosophy of depicting the city's everyday drama.  "Exposed during both tours to the latest adventures in modernism being investigated in these foreign art capitals, Bernstein was strongly impressed on this 1912 visit by the work of Franz Marc, Edvard Munch, and Wassily Kandinsky, admiring their anti-naturalistic palette and novel departures from other eye-pleasing painting conventions."

She returned to New York with renewed vigor in her ambition to record the larger, expressive power of the city, rather than to dilute that visual confrontation into finely tuned details.  Bernstein gravitated to subjects where urban spaces fostered the intersection of citizens from all strata of New York society: scenes commonplace to the waterfront, streets, trolleys, and centers of public recreation ranging from theater lobbies to Coney Island.  Her studio location near Bryant Park offered Bernstein the virtues of a distinctive setting in which to test her newly formed ideas about painting and a guaranteed cross section of New Yorkers seeking air, light, and company. She was also known for harbors, beaches, children, still-life and fish.

An art critic once wrote "Bernstein brought the sum of her academic training and visual knowledge of art to the cityscapes she began to generate in the aftermath of the 1913 Armory Show, which seemed again to disorient modern painting only five years after the "Eight" had made their initial splash in New York's art world."  Her rapid, fluid brushwork, innovative color play, and fresh approach earned her praise in 1919 as "a woman painter who paints like a man."  Ill-considered as that tribute seems today, the comparison acknowledged her solid footing as a member of the "Ash Can School of urban realists" whose work was garnering critical esteem in the early part of the century and from whom Bernstein "crafted her own variant of a "virile" sensibility to chronicle contemporary New York on canvas."

Bernstein was a member of the American Print Makers Society; the National Association of Woman Artists; Boston Printmakers Society; North Shore Art Association; Society of American Etchers; Philadelphia PA; Rockport Art Association; Gloucester Society of Artists; Connecticut Academy of Fine Art; Society of Independent Artists and others. Awards bestowed upon her include: Philadelphia Plastic Club; French institute of Arts and Science; National Association of Woman Artists, 1949, 1951,1955; Society of Graphic Artists, 1953;American Color Printmakers Society prize; French Institute of Arts and Letters, 1938; National Arts Club Prize and many others. She is said to have had over fifty solo shows.

Source:
Blake Benton Fine Art
_________________________________________________________________________________
Note:
Theresa Bernstein died on February 12, 2002 at the age of 112. She was possibly the oldest living artist in America. Her career spanned 80 years.

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