by Sally Cohen
This Saturday, July 26, Woodmere Art Museum presents “Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art,” the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to the work of Theresa Bernstein (1890 to 2002). A Century in Art features more than 50 paintings and works on paper from an artist whose life and career spanned the entire century, and returns an erased woman artist to the public eye, prompting new scholarship on this pioneering figure in American art.
Organized by Gail Levin, Distinguished 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 exhibition is on view through Oct. 26 (open house Saturday, Sept. 18, 4 to 6 p.m., at Woodmere).
Bernstein’s dramatic paintings chronicled20th-century American life from the perspective of her experience as both a woman artist and a person of the Jewish faith. Her expressive realism and penetrating depictions of urban life included formerly overlooked subjects like immigrants, suffragettes and readers in the public library as well as images of parks, music halls and wartime rallies.
Bernstein achieved recognition early in her career, exhibiting regularly with the Ashcan painters. She was praised for “painting like a man,” a remark that demonstrates the gender biases she faced. In both her life and her paintings, prints and drawings, Bernstein reveals the major issues of her time.
Born in 1890 in Cracow, Poland, Bernstein immigrated with her parents to the U.S. and settled in Philadelphia when she was one year old. She graduated in 1911 from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art & Design) and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under noted Philadelphia artist Daniel Garber. In 1912, Bernstein moved with her parents to New York City where she lived the rest of her life. She exhibited with Robert Henri, John Sloan and other members of the Ashcan School and at many institutions and galleries throughout her career.
Her studio near Bryant Park and Times Square allowed her to paint a cross-section of New Yorkers; she also painted harbors, beaches, fish and still-lifes. She and her husband, William Meyerowitz, also an artist, lived for many decades in a rent-controlled loft-style studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just one block from Central Park West, and this studio was her home for the rest of her life. Bernstein and her husband often spent summers in New England, where Bernstein completed many of her beach scenes.
Following the death of their only child in infancy, the couple remained child-free during their long marriage. Bernstein and Meyerowitz were quite close to two of their nieces, who were both accomplished musicians, namely Laura Nyro and Barbara Meyerowitz (later known as Barbara De Angelis). Nyro and DeAngelis were both supported in their musical educations by Bernstein and Meyerowitz, and Nyro went on to achieve considerable fame as a singer-songwriter, her fame continuing after her death.
DeAngelis graduated from The Juilliard School of Music in the 1940s, and enjoyed modest success as a songwriter, composer and teacher of piano and voice in New York and New Jersey. She lived and taught piano and voice in Atlanta, Georgia from March 2010 until her death. Bernstein died in 2002, two weeks before her 112th birthday.
There will be a lecture about Bernstein, “Artist of the 20th Century,” on Saturday, July 26, 3 to 4 p.m.; free with museum admission, and refreshments will be served. The speaker will be Michele Cohn, Ph.D. A close friend of the artist, Dr. Cohen will reflect on her life and artistic career, exploring how her connections with Philadelphia and New York contributed to her artistic development.
Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. Admission to special exhibitions is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and free for students, children and Museum members; exhibitions in the Founder’s Gallery and Helen Millard Children’s Gallery are free. For more information, visit woodmereartmuseum.org or call 215-247-0476.