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Theresa Bernstein


BERNSTEIN, THERESA (1890–2002), U.S. artist. Born in Philadelphia to cultured immigrant parents, Bernstein showed an interest in art as a child. She took some classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and earned a degree at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. By 1912 she was living in New York City, where she briefly studied at the Art Students League with William Merritt Chase. In these early years she painted in an Ashcan style, influenced by John Sloan and other artists of the period who depicted the everyday life of the city in dark tones. New York Street (1912) and Waiting Room: Employment Office (1917) exemplify Bernstein's realist tendency of this period. She had her first solo exhibition at the Milch Gallery in New York City in 1919, the same year that she married the artist William Meyerowitz.

An expressionist technique pervades Bernstein's work in the 1920s and 1930s, during which time she added jazz musicians to her large repertoire, a subject naturally in accord with her new style and her lifelong love of music. Beginning in the 1920s, she spent summers in Gloucester with her husband. These vacations produced paintings of beaches, harbors, and fish. In the 1930s she continued painting a wide range of subjects, including portraits, still lifes, and beach scenes. Under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project, Bernstein created a mural, The First Orchestra in Americas (1938), for the Manheim, Pennsylvania Treasury Department. While many artists in the 1930s joined the Communist Party, Bernstein's political consciousness centered around Zionism. Although Zionist Meeting, New York (1923) comes from an earlier period, the subject matter indicates her political sympathies.

Bernstein's Jewish identity was reinforced by her husband, the son of a cantor. Prayer (1938), Bernstein's most obviously religious canvas, shows the energy of the worshippers through a gestural brushstroke. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Bernstein and Meyerowitz visited there 13 times during a 30-year period. In her 1991 autobiography Bernstein devotes a full chapter to her experiences in Israel and her attraction to the land, of which she painted several canvases. She also published a journal dedicated to her Israeli trips in 1994.


T. Bernstein, Theresa Bernstein (1985); P.M. Burnham, "Theresa Bernstein," in: Woman's Art Journal, 9:2 (1989), 22–27; T.B. Meyerowitz, The Journal (1991); T.B. Meyerowitz, Israeli Journal (1994).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.