Sterne, Maurice, 1878-1957Variant names
Maurice Sterne, Russian-born artist and sculptor, was noted for his series of paintings on Bali and was commissioned to execute a series of large murals for the Justice Department Building in Washington.
From the description of Maurice Sterne papers, 1912-1963. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702133024
Sterne recalls having spent evenings with Werfel in Venice in 1923.
From the description of Correspondence to Franz Werfel, 1940. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155864551
One of nine children of Gregor and Naomi Sterne, painter-sculptor Maurice Sterne was born in the German-speaking city of Libau in the province of Latvia, Russia, in 1877 or 1878. (Sterne himself was apparently never certain of the date of his birth). In 1884, after his father's death, Sterne's family moved to Moscow, where Maurice attended a Jewish trade school with the anticipation of becoming a locksmith. He soon left the trade school and found encouragement in his artistic endeavors at a polytechnic school. In August 1889, Maurice, his mother, and younger sister Lena joined older brother Max in New York City.
In his first few years in his new country, Sterne worked part-time in, among other places, a flag factory, a cigar store, a bronze factory, a mirror factory, and a saloon. One of his jobs, an apprenticeship in a map-engraver's shop, refocused his attention on art; he subsequently undertook first a class in mechanical drawing at Cooper Union, then a course of study at the National Academy of Design, while continuing to work in the evenings. Though Sterne chafed at the rigid requirements of formulaic academic study, he had the opportunity to study anatomical drawing under the renowned Thomas Eakins. After four years he finished his art education at the National Academy in 1899 with high honors, winning several major competitive awards during his final year. Unable to find a paying outlet for his talent immediately after graduating, he joined William James Glackens, George "Pop" Hart, and others in forming an artistic group called the Country Sketch Club. In 1903 he became a teaching assistant to James D. Smillie at the National Academy.
Awarded a scholarship by the Academy to study abroad, Sterne went to Europe in 1904 for what would be a ten-year period of artistic experimentation. Going first to Paris where he met Leo and Gertrude Stein and Picasso among others, he later went to Germany, then to Italy to paint at Rome and at Anticoli Corrado, with briefer sojourns in Florence and in Greece. Having declined to study at formal academies in Paris, Sterne had come under the influence of Impressionist painters such as Degas, Renoir, and especially Cézanne, and likewise was drawn to the classical style of Mantegna, Pollauiola, and Piero della Francesca. During his stay in Europe he attempted to merge these influences and formulate his own style. In Germany in 1910 he enjoyed the patronage of Alard Dubois-Reymond, who commissioned several paintings from him. With this money he travelled in 1911 with his friend Karli Sohn first to Egypt, then to India, Burma, Java, and finally Bali. Entranced by the peaceful, primitive lifestyle in Bali, Sterne remained there from the fall of 1912 until May, 1914, capturing the native life on canvas. His early reputation in art would come from his work in Bali.
In 1914, Sterne returned to New York City. Resuming briefly his instructorship at the National Academy, he became acquainted with the art patron Mabel Dodge, who set up a studio for him at Provincetown, Massachusetts and invited him to join her artistic circle of friends. Sterne and Mabel Dodge were married in 1917 and after a brief, tumultuous life together in New York and Taos, New Mexico, they separated and were finally divorced in 1921.
In 1920 Sterne returned to Europe. There he renewed his relationship with young Vera Segal, whom he had known as a student at the Duncan School of Dance in New York. They married in Vienna in 1923 and went to live in Anticoli Corrado, where Sterne set up a studio with Edward Bruce. Between 1923 and 1932, the Sternes split their time between Europe and the U.S. For six years in the mid-1930s Sterne taught art at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and in 1939 went to Hawaii to execute his first and only commercial art project--a series of paintings for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Returning to New York, the Sternes settled at Mt. Kisco, while maintaining a home in Provincetown. In the early 1940s he suffered his first bout with cancer. By the end of the decade, finding painting all but impossible, he gave full attention to writing his memoirs, a project on which he worked for over seven years and which still was not completed at his death in 1957.
During his life Sterne received a number of awards and honors for his work. In 1925 he became the first American artist to be given an one-man show to represent the United States at the International Exhibition in Rome. In 1928 he was the first living American to be invited to paint his self-portrait for the Uffizzi Gallery in Florence, and the same year he was awarded the Logan Medal for his exhibited work at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1926 he was selected to execute the sculpture for the Rogers-Kennedy Memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts, a task that he completed in 1929. Generally regarded as his major artistic triumph, the sculpture was called by Henry Francis Taylor, director of the Metropolitan Museum, "the finest piece of outdoor sculpture in America," an opinion echoed by several art critics. In 1929 Sterne was elected president of the Society of American Painters, Sculptors, and Gravers.
Throughout his life Sterne was honored with one-man shows at major galleries in the U.S. and abroad. Among the more noteworthy of these exhibitions were those at the Berlin Photographic Gallery in 1912 and 1917, the Bourgeoise Gallery in 1917 and 1922, the Scott-Fowles Gallery in 1925, Rheinhart Gallery in 1930, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1933, and the Honolulu Museum of Art in 1939. His painting After Lunch was awarded the first William Clark prize for painting at the Corcoran Gallery in 1930. In 1933 Sterne became the first American artist to have a one-man retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Near the end of the 1930s Sterne completed his two major commissions of the decade: a series of twenty large murals on the theme The Struggle for Justice for the Justice Department Building in Washington, D. C., and a large outdoor sculpture group for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Both works received much acclaim, but Sterne became involved in a brief controversy when the Catholic Church protested his depiction of an Inquisition in one of the Justice panels. In 1936 Sterne also received some notoriety when as a judge he became involved in a controversy over selection of a memorial to Robert W. Speer in Denver.
In 1945 Sterne was selected by President Truman to serve on the National Commission of Fine Arts, a post which he held for six years. The purchase of his painting Mexican Church Interior by the Tate Gallery in 1946 made him the first living American to have a work of art in that renowned gallery. In 1956 President Eisenhower honored another of Sterne's paintings, After the Rain, by borrowing it from the Museum of Modern Art to hang in his White House office. Perhaps Sterne's greatest tribute came after his death when the city of Anticoli Corrado named a street in his honor in 1959. Maurice Sterne died on July 23, 1957, after a long second battle with cancer.
Sterne's paintings and sculptures are represented in the permanent collections of major museums throughout the world, but his reputation rests mainly on his Worcester sculpture, his Department of Justice murals, his collection of Bali sketches, and a series of marine paintings he completed in the early 1940s.
In 1965, Sterne's autobiography, Shadow and Light, on which he had worked for over seven years, finally appeared in print, edited by Charlotte Mayerson and much reduced from Sterne's original manuscript.
From the guide to the Maurice Sterne papers, 1912-1963, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Bali (Indonesia : Province)|
|Anticoli Corrado (Italy)|
|Bali (Indonesia : Province)|
|Anticoli Corrado (Italy)|
|Mural painting and decoration|
|Art, Modern--20th century|
|Painting, Modern--20th century--History|
|Sculpture, Modern--20th century|