The Marcel Sternberger Collection on view at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College

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The Marcel Sternberger Collection on view at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College
Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, 1952 - Photograph by Marcel Sternberger, © 2016 Stephan Loewentheil.

NEW YORK, NY.- When 30-year-old Jacob Loewentheil rediscovered the photographic archive of Marcel Sternberger, which included thousands of images, he was so intrigued by the portraits that he embarked on a five-year journey that culminated in the publication of a book and a series of exhibitions, the second one -- The Photographs of Marcel Sternberger: Portraits of the 20th Century -- opening at The Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College, 135 East 22nd Street, on October 6 and running through November 3, 2017.

Notes Loewentheil, “Sternberger’s revolutionary concept ‘Psychological Portraiture’ marked a turning point in the history of photography, and I am proud to unveil even more of his iconic images of men and women, which expands upon our enormously successful exhibition of Sternberger’s work in April.”

The Photographs of Marcel Sternberger: Portraits of the 20th Century, consists of 40 images, including never-before-seen photographs of world-renowned luminaries such as Sigmund Freud, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfred Siqueiros, José Rubén Romero, Dorothy Norman, The Belgian Royal Family, Albert Einstein, the Shah of Iran, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Myrtle Walgreen, and George Bernard Shaw. Whether it was of a politician, a coalminer, or a child, Sternberger’s portraits evidenced spontaneity and captured subjects with clarity and insight.

“Since his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1956, Sternberger’s work has remained almost entirely out of the public eye,” says Loewentheil, whose book The Psychological Portrait: Marcel Sternberger’s Revelations in Photography sheds light on the photographer’s work. “Sternberger’s iconic images of renowned men and women in this exhibition reveal his remarkable art to a new generation of admirers.”

Sternberger always strived for the realistic human expressions of his sitters, elicited through conversation and a systematic approach to portraiture. “What drew me to his work is that although he used a 35m handheld Leica camera with little equipment, it’s as technically accomplished as that of any photographer,” says Loewentheil. “At the same time, there was a vast record of the 20th century to be found in the archive and photographs.”

According to Loewentheil, there were thousands of negatives—of portraits of everyone from Einstein to Kahlo—that were largely unprotected, un-digitized, and most important, lost to the world. “It was something I felt compelled to rectify.” In doing so, Loewentheil has plans to mount several more exhibitions.

The New York Times called Sternberger’s methodology “a unique blend of psychological and photographic techniques.” He believed in and defined “The Psychology of Portrait Photography,” using both research and personal experience to navigate the complex process of a truly successful portrait session. Sternberger wrote, “The task of coordinating psychological understanding with aesthetical interpretation is tremendously challenging, particularly since it has to be compressed into such a relatively short time. You must concentrate all your carefully cultivated sensitivity, all your artistic experience to ‘feel’ your way into your subject’s character, decide rapidly which his best [physical] points are, and how to exploit them to greatest advantage.”

Sternberger fled his native Hungary fearing reprisals after protesting the anti-Semitic regime in the late 1920s. In Paris, he became a journalist for Le Soir, among other publications. In 1932, he moved to Berlin where he met his soon-to-be wife, Ilse. The two were to marry in June of 1933, but hurriedly married in April when they learned that the Nazis planned on confiscating the passports of Jews. After detention by the Gestapo they went to Paris and soon after, Antwerp. There he became Private Photographer to The Belgian Royal Family. As Nazism and Fascism spread across Europe, Sternberger and his family were able to flee to London with help from the Belgian Royal Family. After less than two years in London, he was invited by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to produce an official portrait in the White House. He would spend the next decade documenting luminary personalities across the United States. Later, he spent time in Mexico photographing the political and business elite before ironically befriending Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. He died tragically in a car accident at the height of his career in 1956.

This left his wife Ilse the sole guardian of this extraordinary archive of art. Many decades later she was determined to find the collection a place in history. Thus it was with relief in 1996 when she met Stephan Loewentheil, a prominent antiquarian dealer to whom she could entrust the Sternberger archive. He promised to keep the collection intact until a solution to Ilse’s dreams could be found. Her great aspiration was to publish Marcel’s book and the archive of their joint work, to bring their art and history out of storage and into the collective memory of the present. Many years later, Stephan Loewentheil’s son Jacob, a student of psychology and photography, rediscovered the archive in storage.

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