Saul Steinberg

Romanian / American, 1914 - 1999

Easel & Palette, 1987, mixed media on wood, 21 x 16 inches


Saul Steinberg was born in Romania in 1914.  He studied philosophy for a year at the University of Bucharest before enrolling at the Politecnico di Milano.  He graduated with a degree in architecture, though he never designed a single building - he submitted his drawings to Italian weeklies and became known for his tongue-in-cheek commentaries.

Steinberg moved away from Italy after the introduction of anti-Semitic laws by the Fascist government.  He spent a year on Santo Domingo waiting for an American visa, and submitted cartoons to foreign publications in the meantime.  He was given commissions for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Life, and in 1942, The New Yorker sponsored his entry into the United States (they had published his first cartoon in 1941).  This was the beginning of Steinberg’s lifelong relationship with The New Yorker: he created 87 covers, 33 cartoons, and 71 portfolios containing 469 drawings, as well as several hundred other works that amounted to over 1,200 drawings during his career.

Steinberg worked for military intelligence during World War II and was stationed in China, North Africa, and Italy.  At the end of the war, he returned to work for American periodicals, merging his vast knowledge of European art with the popular American art form of the cartoon to pioneer a uniquely urbane style.  He his best remembered for his commercial work, though he also exhibited throughout his career at fine art museums and galleries.  He married the Romanian-born abstract expressionist Hedda Sterne in 1944; they remained married despite Steinberg’s many mistresses.

In 1946, Steinberg’s work was exhibited in the critically acclaimed “Fourteen Americans” show at the Museum of Modern Art, along with artists such as Arshile Gorky, Isamu Noguchi, and Robert Motherwell.  There was also a retrospective at the Whitney in 1978, and a posthumous retrospective at the Institute of Modern Art in Valencia, Spain in 2002