“The Immigrants,” (1923), by Theresa Bernstein. Oil on canvas, collection of Thomas and Karen Buckley.

“The Immigrants,” (1923), by Theresa Bernstein. Oil on canvas, collection of Thomas and Karen Buckley.

by William R. Valerio

With Woodmere’s dedication to the artists of Philadelphia, the exhibition we open next week dedicated to Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002) is an important accomplishment. Yes, you read the artist’s birth and death dates correctly: Bernstein lived to be one hundred and twelve years old—and she was an active painter up through her 110th birthday.

“Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art,” opening July 26, will include a selection of works of art that span most of the 20th century. Her paintings are remarkable because they so strongly emerge from the perspective of an artist who conveys her social experience as both a woman and a person of the Jewish faith. Subjects include immigrants, suffragettes and readers in the public library, as well as parks, music halls, synagogues and wartime rallies.

Although she claimed to have been born in Philadelphia, Bernstein was born in Cracow, Poland, in 1890 and she immigrated to Philadelphia with her parents that same year. Her creative talents were recognized early by her father, and she attended first the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art & Design) and then the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

She trained as an illustrator and established her interest in depicting urban subjects and modern life, embracing the realist-impressionist-expressionist spirit of the Philadelphia artists William Glackens, John Sloan, Robert Henri and Everett Shinn, who were slightly older than Bernstein. Like these artists, Bernstein moved to New York, and in 1911 she studied for a brief period with another artist of the Philadelphia cohort, William Merritt Chase, at the Art Students League.

Bernstein built a career for herself as a unique voice in the arts, showing her work and having exhibitions in the same galleries as Glackens, Henri, Chase, and those Philadelphia artists who became known as The Ashcan School. She often signed her paintings “T. Bernstein,” because she knew that as a woman she faced bias. One critic admired her for “painting like a man,” because “painting like a woman” would be considered a bad thing.

To enjoy the work of Theresa Bernstein (on view from July 26 – Oct. 26), please join us for a special opening lecture and reception on July 26 from 3-5 p.m. The art historian Dr. Michele Cohen, who was the artist’s close friend, will describe the artist’s evolution as a painter and the unique qualities of her work.

William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO, Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.


Lecture: Artist of the Twentieth Century

Speaker: Michele Cohen, Ph.D.

Date: Saturday, July 26, 3 p.m.

Art historian, Michele Cohen, who curated the first major museum exhibition of Bernstein’s work, will reflect on her life and artistic career, exploring how Bernstein’s connections to Philadelphia, New York, and Gloucester contributed to her artistic development.

Lecture: Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art

Speaker: Gail Levin, Ph.D.

Date: Saturday, Sept. 13, 3 p.m.

Gail Levin will talk on Bernstein’s work and explore the struggles of women artists in 20th century America. Levin will describe how Bernstein was once more famous than her pal, Edward Hopper.

Lecture: Gender and Modernity: Bernstein and Her Milieu

Speaker: Christine Filippone, Ph.D.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 13, 3 p.m.

Christine Filippone, assistant professor of art history at Millersville University, will discuss changing gender roles in the twentieth century, and how these affected the early career of Theresa Bernstein.

Lecture: The Art of Observation

Speaker: Flo Gelo, associate professor of medical humanities at Drexel University College of Medicine

Date: Monday, Oct. 20 , 11 a.m.

Looking closely at the art of Theresa Bernstein, visitors will focus on how the artist captured psychological and emotional expression.