Maurice Sterne, whose paintings reflect his extensive travels as well as various stylistic influences, was born August 8, 1878, in Memel, Latvia, on the Baltic Sea. After living briefly in Moscow (1885–1889), the Sternes immigrated to New York. From 1894 to 1899, Sterne attended the National Academy of Design, where he met Alfred Maurer and studied briefly with Thomas Eakins. He first exhibited his work in 1902 at the Old Country Sketch Club with William J. Glackens and “Pop” (George Overbury) Hart.
From 1904 to 1907 Sterne lived a bohemian life in Paris, where he first saw the art of Cézanne and other French modernists at the Salons d’Automne. He then traveled through Europe, to India and the Far East, and returned to New York in 1915. After a stormy marriage to Mabel Dodge from 1916 to 1918, he lived in one of his favorite Italian villages, Anticoli Corrado, occasionally returning to New York to teach at the Art Students League.
In 1926 Scott and Fowles Gallery held an enormously successful exhibition of his work that established him as one of the foremost artists in America. Three years later, he and his second wife, Vera Segal, returned to New York, and he established an art school there in 1932. A year later, the Museum of Modern Art held Sterne’s first retrospective. From 1934 to 1936 Sterne lived in San Francisco, where he taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Institute of Art) and worked on murals (installed in 1941) for the library in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C. He resumed teaching in New York and in 1944 began spending his summers in Provincetown, R.I. In 1945 President Truman appointed him to the National Fine Arts Commission, on which he served until 1951. Sterne died July 23, 1957, in Mount Kisco, New York. The Phillips Collection owns eight works by the artist, two from his early trip to the Far East, five 1920s Italian paintings, and one late New England.