Theresa Bernstein

1890 – 2002

by Patricia M. Burnham

An artistic career lasting over ninety years and spanning the twentieth century might seem a worthwhile achievement in itself, but to Theresa Bernstein, longevity was just “an accident of nature.” Only art mattered. Painter, printmaker, teacher, poet, celebrated raconteur, and art activist, Bernstein was an enduring fixture in the art worlds of New York and the summer colony at Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The only child of European immigrants Isidore and Anne (Ferber) Bernstein, Theresa was born in Krakow on March 1, 1890. She graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art and Design) in 1911 (the college awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1992). The following year, her father, a textile manufacturer, moved the family to New York City. Bernstein rounded out her art education at the Art Students League, where she studied with William Merritt Chase. In 1919, she married artist William Meyerowitz, a Russian emigré. They had one child, a daughter who died in infancy. Meyerowitz died in 1981.

Although not a formal member of the Ashcan School, Bernstein shared with it a passion for “modern” subject matter, to which she added a radically expressive manner. She embraced urbanism and popular culture with enthusiasm, painting such subjects as the cinema, trolleys and the elevated trains, and Coney Island. She exhibited at the MacDowell Club and had a major show at the Milch Gallery in 1919. Her harbor views and beach scenes painted in blazing Fauve-like color attracted equal interest among the young modernists of Gloucester.

After the 1920s, her reputation waned for many reasons, chief among them a decreased interest in realistic subject matter. There followed a lifetime of steady, consistent work in her signature style—work that was exhibited, reviewed, and (sometimes) purchased, but that did not achieve great critical acclaim. Renewed interest in Bernstein’s art was sparked by the women’s movement, which recognized the quality and originality of her work and her historic contribution to early twentieth-century American art.

As a woman crossing the gender threshold at the beginning of the new century, Bernstein experienced the excitement of that moment but was not spared the indignity of discrimination. Either paying a reluctant compliment or implying criticism, reviewers often described her work as having a “masculine” style. Whatever the gender construction of her style, she saw as a woman, incorporating into her art types and activities ignored by others, such as women at work, women artists, and suffragist parades.

Although Jewish subject matter was not a specialty of Bernstein’s, her works in this genre are among her most profound and moving. Her tropism for community aspects of life led her to depict such subjects as weddings and synagogue services. An ardent Zionist, Bernstein attended the first Zionist meeting in America in Madison Square Garden in 1923, an experience she transformed into the painting Zionist Meeting, New York (1923, National Jewish Fund). Fully assimilated and completely at ease with American culture, Bernstein nevertheless maintained close touch with her Jewish roots and visited Israel many times. Raised in what she referred to as a secular household, she later took on the greater religious observance of her husband.

Works by Theresa Bernstein are scattered across the country in many different venues, from prestigious private collections such as The Manoogian Collection to small personal caches in Gloucester, where, in the early days, she may have bartered a painting for food or fuel oil. The Mannheim, Pennsylvania, post office boasts a Bernstein mural from the 1930s. Major works are also held by the Jewish Museum, the Cape Ann Historical Association, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Montclair Art Museum, and the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

Theresa Bernstein died on February 12, 2002, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was just two weeks shy of her 112th birthday.


Israeli Journal (1994); The Journal (1991); The Poetic Canvas (1989); The Sketchbook (1992); William Meyerowitz: The Artist Speaks (1986).

Group Exhibitions

American Women Artists: The 20th Century. Knoxville Museum of Art (1989–1990); The Genius of the Fair Muse: Painting and Sculpture Celebrating American Women Artists 1875 to 1945. Grand Central Art Galleries, Inc., New York (1987); New York Themes: Paintings and Prints by William Meyerowitz and Theresa Bernstein. New-York Historical Society (1983); Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York 1900–1945. The Jewish Museum (1991); The Paintings and Etchings of William Meyerowitz and Theresa Bernstein. Cape Ann Historical Association (1986); The Philadelphia Ten. Galleries at Moore (1998-1999).

Recent One-Person Exhibitions

Echoes of New York: The Paintings of Theresa Bernstein. Museum of the City of New York (1990); Theresa Bernstein. Smith-Girard, Stamford, Conn. (1985); Theresa Bernstein: Expressions of Cape Cod and New York, 1914–1972, A Centennial Exhibition. The Stamford Museum and Nature Center (1989); Theresa Bernstein, People and Places: A Retrospective. The Philadelphia Museum of Judaica (1995); Theresa Bernstein (1890–): An Early Modernist. Joan Whalen Fine Art (2000); Theresa Bernstein (1890–): A Seventy-Year Retrospective. Joan Whalen Fine Art (1998).


Burnham, Patricia M. “Theresa Bernstein.” Woman’s Art Journal 9, no. 2 (Fall 1988/Winter 1989): 22–27, and Theresa Bernstein, People and Places: A Retrospective. Exhibition brochure. The Philadelphia Museum of Judaica (1995); Theresa Bernstein (1890–): An Early Modernist. Exhibition catalog. Joan Whalen Fine Art (2000); Cohen, Michelle. Echoes of New York. Exhibition brochure. Museum of the City of New York (1990); Jackson, Girard. Theresa Bernstein. Exhibition catalog. Stamford (1985), and Theresa Bernstein: Expressions of Cape Cod and New York, 1914-1972, A Centennial Exhibition. Exhibition catalog. Stamford Museum and Nature Center (1989); Kleeblatt, Norman, and Susan Chevlowe. Painting a Place in America Jewish Artists in New York 1900–1945. Exhibition catalog. The Jewish Museum in cooperation with Indiana University Press (1991); Lozowick, Louis. 100 Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (1947); Who’s Who in American Art (1995–1996): 98–99; Obituary. NYTimes, February 16, 2002; Sanford, Cynthia H. Theresa Bernstein (1890–): A Seventy-Year Retrospective. Exhibition catalog. Joan Whalen Fine Art (1998); “Theresa Bernstein, artist, 111.” Deathwatch website, February 21, 2002; Jureck, Gretchen. “Theresa Bernstein’s Life Touched Three Centuries.” Suite 101 website, March 8, 2002.


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I studied Bronze Casting and Art History and never learned about this amazing, talented Artist! I wonder how many artworks she created? Presently, I am teaching senior citizens Art and Theresa Bernstein is an inspiration for them. :)

I am interested in early artist coops, I see Theresa Bernstein made a poster for the 1921 show of the Society of Independent Artists with others including John Sloan. She probably showed with them.

In reply to by marjkramer

My aunt recently died at age 95 in her home she had five of theresa bernsteins paintings . She painted them in 1922 they were almost life size paintings of my aunts mother in law and my aunts husband age 4 at the time as she worked for her in her home and used her in several paintings as her muse. I have contacted a member of this family it would be the subject of the paintings grandson because i would like to see them go to the rightful owner. Hopefully he will follow up a retrieve the paintings . Do you think these would be of any value ? As they are in the hands of the executor of my aunts estate i would like to impress upon the grandson the urgency of which he should retrieve these paintings .

I happened to be capable obtain a artwork by Theresa Bernstein called Roses that she painted when you look at the 1940s.

In reply to by Sara Lekker

I happen to have that original painting in our living room. If it is the one with pink roses in an oversized vase.

I interviewed Theresa Bernstein which was aired on television. She was 103 at the time and was shown on the evening news. I have been cleaning up and there may be some who might have some ineterest in the video.

In reply to by Franklyn Field

I am profoundly interested in seeing the video and would be so grateful toyou to see it. I live in Manhattan. Please get in touch with me, if you still have it. Thanks.

In reply to by Ellen Mausner

As I wrote you on 7/26/12, I saw your response to Franklyn Field's comment about a video of Ms. Bernstein and have forwarded your contact information to her. She wrote her original comment in March and may not regularly check on the site to notice your comment. We hope she will be in touch with you.

She also has a painting on display at the De Young museum in San Francisco.

Theresa Bernstein, who was born in 1890 and died in 2002—just two weeks shy of her 112th birthday—had a life and artistic career which spanned the entire twentieth century. This photo of Bernstein alongside one of her works was taken in 1924.

Institution: Library of Congress.

How to cite this page

Burnham, Patricia M.. "Theresa Bernstein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 17, 2021) <>.


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