There­sa Bern­stein: A Cen­tu­ry in Art

Gail Levin, ed.
  • Review
By – September 2, 2014

There­sa Bern­stein, a near­ly unknown Jew­ish-Amer­i­can impres­sion­ist and real­ist painter, now has a hand­some book devot­ed to her. Though pub­lic appre­ci­a­tion for her cen­tu­ry-span­ning career was long stul­ti­fied by the male dom­i­na­tion of the art world — and, par­tial­ly, by her devot­ed mar­riage of six­ty-two years to fel­low artist William Meyerowitz— Bernstein’s life and works are now brought to light by Gail Levin, Pro­fes­sor of Art at City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. 

In her favored styles of real­ism and expres­sionism, Bern­stein paint­ed con­tem­po­rary themes of World War I, suf­frage, Jew­ish life, and the Great Depres­sion. She strug­gled open­ly against female dis­crim­i­na­tion in the gallery sys­tem and awards, sup­port­ing artist-run, female group asso­ci­a­tions. Crit­ics praised her lumi­nous land­scapes, por­traits of Ein­stein and Jazz fig­ures, rur­al scenes, cityscapes, and parades. She co-exhib­it­ed with Chase, Davis, Hen­ri, Sloan, Bel­lows; though she includ­ed her hus­band in her exhi­bi­tions, Meyerowitz dis­cour­aged her par­tic­i­pa­tion in any of his own show­ings. Nev­er­the­less, Bern­stein con­tin­ued to paint, only tak­ing a time-out” after Meyerowitz’s death in 1981

Wid­ow­hood was the last of three water­sheds that great­ly influ­enced Bernstein’s career, includ­ing the loss of her three-month-old daugh­ter and World War II, which extend­ed her Jew­ish sen­si­bil­i­ty and over­whelmed the art world with abstract expres­sion­ism — a move­ment which Bern­stein rejected. 

Filled with near­ly two hun­dred reproduc­tions and enriched by doc­u­men­tary photo­graphs, A Cen­tu­ry in Art also fea­tures essays by the edi­tor, Gail Levin, and oth­ers. Levin — who first encoun­tered Bernstein’s name while research­ing her book on Edward Hop­per — has ren­dered an intrigu­ing biog­ra­phy out of won­der­ful art­work and a provoca­tive life sto­ry. Appen­dices, chronol­o­gy, index.

Relat­ed content:

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

Discussion Questions