Sunday, 18 March 2018


“Our influences are who we are. It’s rare that anything is an absolutely pure vision.” - Eddie Vedder 

Maurice Sterne (August 18, 1878 in Latvia – July 23, 1957 in USA), was an American sculptor and painter remembered today for his association with philanthropist Mabel Dodge Luhan, to whom he was married from 1916 to 1923. He began his career as a draughtsman and painter, and critics noted the similarity of his work, in its volume and weight, to sculpture.

In the late 1890s, Sterne studied under Alfred Maurer and Thomas Eakins at the National Academy of Design, and then travelled widely in Europe and the Far East. A trip to Greece in 1908 introduced him to archaic Greek statues, inspiring him to experiment with the form himself in stone. Between 1911-1914 he and his friend Karli Sohn-Rethel, a German painter, travelled together to India, the Far East and settled in Bali to paint and sketch, which further informed his later work.

Sterne came to New Mexico in 1916 at the suggestion of his friend, Paul Burlin, and settled in Taos until 1918. His reputation was established by a show at the Scott and Fowles Gallery in 1926 and furthered by a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1933. In the mid-1930s, Sterne lived in San Francisco and taught at the California School of Fine Arts. He returned to the East Coast in 1945 and established a studio in Mount Kisco, New York. He was named to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1938.

From 1945 to 1950, he served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. In addition to his murals in the library of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Sterne’s works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Phillips Collection. Sterne was one of a dozen sculptors invited to compete in the Pioneer Woman statue competition in 1927, which he failed to win. Sterne died in 1957.

Sterne’s painting is quite varied and shows his many influences, with a lot of his canvases being derivative of his artistic interests at the time he painted them. Above is “New Mexico Still Life” c.1919. Cezanne still life painting has influenced this work, but there are also some some elements of the more expressionistic, freer work of pre-cubist Picasso. Quite different to Sterne’s painting of “Entrance of the Ballet” that reminds one of Degas, or some of his portraits reminiscent of very early Modigliani, or some of the early Soviet portraiture. His sculpture is sometimes reminiscent of Art Nouveau, at other times pseudoheroic fascist propaganda.

An interesting artist whose work needs a more in-depth exploration.

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