Painter, draftsman, and sculptor. Best known for works published as cartoons, primarily in the New Yorker magazine, he commented broadly, if humorously, on modern life, its follies, and its discontents. An extensive knowledge of modern and traditional art fed his imaginative, witty, economical, and psychologically perceptive style. Notions of identity, masquerade, and cultural displacement pervade his work. Among his most original conceptions, a long series of drawings elaborate visually upon the meaning of words. In addition to his published drawings, he created paintings, murals, assemblages, collages, and illustrated books. Born in Râmincul-Sarat, he graduated from high school in nearby Bucharest and studied philosophy for a year at the city's university prior to leaving Romania in 1933. In Milan he studied architecture and earned his doctorate in 1940, although he never worked professionally as an architect. His first cartoons appeared in Italian publications in the mid-1930s and his first New Yorker drawing in 1941. In 1942 he arrived in New York. The following year he mounted his first solo gallery show, arranged under the auspices of Betty Parsons, became an American citizen, and began three years of service in the U.S. Navy. Afterward, he made his home in New York but traveled extensively in the United States and abroad. During the war and afterward at the Nuremberg Trials, he made drawings, many published in the New Yorker, with a reporter's eye for observed detail. In the 1950s he developed the more abstracted and philosophical point of view associated with his mature drawing style. In Steinberg's classic 1976 New Yorker cover, a Manhattanite's overview of the United States, only a flat and unappealing sliver of land separates the Pacific Ocean from the Hudson River. It numbers among the many images that place the artist as a bemused outsider in the adopted country that he affectionately found exhilarating but flawed. Steinberg died at his home in Manhattan. His books, each devoted to a different theme, include All in Line (1945), The Art of Living (1949), Passport (1954), The Labyrinth (1960), The New World (1965), Le Masque (1966), The Inspector (1973), Documents (1979), and The Discovery of America (1992). Memoirs appear in Reflections and Shadows (2002), based on tape-recorded interviews conducted by Aldo Buzzi in 1974 and 1977.
In 1943 he married recently divorced painter, collage artist, printmaker, and occasional sculptor Hedda Sterne (1916–2011). They separated some years later but did not divorce. Hedwig Lindenberg studied for two years at the University of Bucharest, in the city of her birth, before moving to Paris in 1930. She married a Romanian, Frederick Sterne, in 1932 and in 1941 arrived in New York, where she quickly became acquainted with émigré artists, as well as young Americans who would soon be known as abstract expressionists. She is particularly remembered among them as the only woman in the celebrated photograph of the Irascibles, published in Life magazine in 1951. For nearly four decades from the mid-1940s, Parsons also showed Sterne's work. During the 1940s it varied from expressionistic representation to near abstraction, often incorporating biomorphic forms that carry surrealist overtones. She also made small abstract sculptures assembled from evocative found materials. Somewhat later she favored machine-based imagery, while during the 1970s she produced diaristic works incorporating handwriting. Ever flexible in her approach to art, she continued working experimentally until late 2004 when she suffered a stroke. Throughout her career, she also painted portraits.