Painter, writer, and etcher Theresa Bernstein was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890. She studied at the Philadelphia School of Design (now Moore College of Art) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Henry B. Snell, Eliot Daingerfield, Daniel Garber, Harriet Sartain, and Samuel Murray. In 1911 she moved to New York City with her parents and studied with William Merritt Chase in his studio and at the Art Students’ League. She belonged to many artist clubs and societies, including the North Shore Art Association, the American Color Print Society, the Society of Independent Artists, Ten Philadelphia Painters, the Society of American Graphic Artists, and the New York Society of Women Artists. She exhibited her work in many national expositions, museums, and galleries, including the Pan-Pacific Expo in San Francisco, the French institute of Arts and Letters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Institute, Parsons School of Design, and the Museum of the City of New York. Her work is held in collections worldwide, and in the permanent collections of the Chicago Art Institute; Butler Institute of American Art; Dallas Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harvard University; Whitney Museum of American Art; Boston Public Library and the New York Historical Society. She married the artist William Meyerowitz in 1919.
Bernstein was a realist painter and expressive colorist known for her urban and shoreline scenes. She was a dynamic draftsperson, capable of capturing the energy of the urban scene and the humanity of its diverse population. She explained that it was “important to maintain the vivacity of your first impression.” Her work was frequently noted as being “masculine” by critics. Distinguished artists who selected paintings for exhibits were surprised to realize that the work that they had admired had been created by a woman. Bernstein added to the confusion by occasionally signing only her last name to her work.
Theresa Bernstein died on February 12, 2002, at the age of 112. As possibly the oldest living artist in America, her career spanned 80 years. In 1998 (four years prior to her death), when asked to reveal the secret of her longevity, she stated “I don’t count.”