Art: Like Building a Campfire

Painter Maurice Sterne at 69 was feeling "rather like a debutante." His first show in 14 years, which opened in a Manhattan gallery last week, introduced a brand-new Sterne to the public. It was not at all the kind of thing that had made Maurice Sterne one of the most respected—and highest paid—artists in the U.S.

Sterne, a polished craftsman, had hitherto painted what he saw with a cool, formal realism. He had been accustomed to making dozens of studies for each canvas, spending months on the final version. Then, all of a sudden,...

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