A number of well-known artists populate this 1951 portrait (below), including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. But there’s only one woman, painter Hedda Sterne. The photo and its backstory are featured in the new book “The Only Woman” (Phaidon), by Immy Humes. Each portrait in this collection of images made throughout history features just one woman posed among men. Marie Curie, Dorothy Parker, and Frida Kahlo are a few of the lone women found in the book’s majority-male images.
According to Humes, at the time this photo was made, the artists were protesting The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “retrograde attitudes” toward abstract art, which was front-page news. They wanted to be taken seriously as artists, and as such, they dressed conservatively for the photo, which appeared in Life magazine. Sterne didn’t think of herself as an abstract expressionist, as the other artists came to be known, and when she arrived to the shoot, each chair had a name on it except for hers, though she claimed it wasn’t deliberate. The men “were furious that I was in [the photo] because they all were sufficiently macho to think that the presence of a woman took away from the seriousness of it all,” she’s quoted in the book as saying.
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.
Tags: portrait photography