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Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art

November 9, 2014 - January 11, 2015


On October 10, 2104 Irvin Lippman, Executive Director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, announced the opening of Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art.  The exhibition with more than forty exceptional paintings will be on view from November 9, 2014 through January 11, 2015 in the Museum's West Gallery (first floor) at 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, FL 33432. (right: Theresa Bernstein, Lilies of the Field, 1915, 35 x 55 inches. Endicott College Collection, Beverly, Mass)

This comprehensive exhibition of paintings was organized by Gail Levin, Distinguished Professor at Baruch College and the Graduate Center at the City University (NY).  The American artist, Theresa Ferber Bernstein (1890 - 2002) is celebrated for painting and exhibiting her work in every decade of the 20th century.  Working in realist and expressionist styles, Bernstein addressed the major issues of her time including women's suffrage, the plight of immigrants, World War I, the emergence of Jazz, unemployment, racism, and Jewish themes.  She is well known for the sensibility and empathy expressed in her portraits of Albert Einstein, Martha Graham, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.

"I am delighted to work with such an esteemed scholar as Gail Levin to bring the paintings of this accomplished artist to our Museum.  Visitors to the Museum have seen a handful of paintings by Bernstein in our galleries thanks to the generosity and long-term loans by Edith and Martin Stein.  Now, we will enjoy the complete breadth and history of this artist's 90-plus year career," says Marisa J Pascucci, Curator of Collections.

Theresa Ferber Bernstein was born on March 1, 1890 in Cracow in the former Austro-Hungarian Republic (today, Poland).  She was the only child of Anna Ferber and Isadore Bernstein, who immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia.  In 1907, she graduated from the William D. Kelly High School, winning a scholarship to the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art & Design).  Bernstein graduated from college in 1911, winning numerous prizes along the way for watercolors and oil paintings.  A move to New York City allowed her to study at the Art Students League and exhibit her sketches at the William H. Powell Art Gallery in November of 1912.

In 1913, she attended the International Exhibition of Modern Art (the Armory Show) and the jury National Academy of Design selected one of her paintings for its annual Winter Exhibition.  That launched her career and soon she was exhibiting across the country at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, Folsom Galleries in New York City, and the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, among others.  Duncan Phillips became Bernstein's first museum patron in 1923; The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., has loaned its two paintings to this show.

In 1917, Bernstein painted with William Meyerowitz in New Jersey, whom she married in 1919.  She gave birth to her only child, Isadora G.R. Meyerowitz in 1920, and lost her to pneumonia just 14 weeks later.  The tragedy figures in Bernstein's paintings such as Loss and Joy of Life, produced later that year.  Yet this marriage was a happy one that survived until Meyerowitz's death in 1981 at the age of ninety-one.  Bernstein remained dedicated to promoting his work -- even above her own.

Bernstein's career flourished in group shows and exhibitions alongside her husband and other acclaimed artists including Edward Hopper, John Sloan, and Robert Henri.  Levin discovered Bernstein while researching Edward Hopper.  "She was once more popular than Hopper with whom she sometimes showed during the 1910s and 1920s," said Levin.  "The exhibition, 'Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art,' explores how fame is fleeting, but shows that the quality of her work has outlived fad and fashion."

"Bernstein's style began as a kind of realism, often linked by critics to the Ashcan School, but ended up more expressionist.  Musically inclined, she was a fan of opera, dance, and jazz, which became a subject of many of her paintings," says Gail Levin, Curator, Theresa Bernstein A Century in Art.

Until her death on February 13, 2002 -- just two weeks shy of her 112th birthday -- Bernstein was a prolific painter and writer who responded to life in New York, and on Cape Ann, where she summered in Gloucester, Massachusetts. (left: Theresa Bernstein, The Cone Sisters, 1930, Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. Endicott College Collection, Beverly, Mass.)

She addressed the seminal social and political events of her time.  Her once dark palette brightened and her brilliant gestural brushwork continued to convey her deep interest and passion for the world around her.

An extensive and well-documented chronology of Bernstein's life is included in Gail Levin's accessible and authoritative book, Theresa Bernstein, A Century in Art, the companion to the exhibition, published in 2013 by the University of Nebraska Press.  In addition to Levin's lead essay, the book includes essays by Patricia M. Burnham and Michele Cohen, two other scholars, who like Levin, knew Bernstein, as well as essays by Sarah Archino, Stephanie Hackett, Elsie Heung, and Gillian Pistell, four younger scholars who studied Bernstein's work with Levin at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

On November 9, 2014 Gail Levin, PhD., presented a Members-only lecture at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Theresa Bernstein: Considering Her Forgotten Fame.  Levin, widely acclaimed as the biographer of Edward Hopper, has curated the Bernstein exhibition, "in a concerted effort to recover the artist's significant contribution to American life."

"Bernstein painted the big issues of her day.  She was a unique chronicler of twentieth-century American life," says Levin.

To view the checklist for the tour, please click here.


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