Visit our Community Pages Please support our work

The Art Story.org - Your Guide to Modern Art

Movements Artists Timelines Ideas Blog
Artists Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro, Sr.

American Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: May 3, 1922 - Syracuse, New York

Died: May 3, 1993 - New York, New York, USA

Quotes

"I would like to think that the exhilaration will have a great effect and influence in the deepest sense, not causing painters to develop mannerisms based on Bonnard's style, but causing them to try to equal as much as they are able, Bonnard's essence."
Robert De Niro, Sr.

"The whole idea of 'action painting' is foreign to me, and, I believe, detrimental to painting, which is what Leonardo called it, 'a mental thing.' A physical action is painting, when it dominates, dulls sensitivity to nature and to one's own feelings, precludes subtlety, and institutes a dead mechanical routine."

Synopsis

Painter, sculptor and poet Robert De Niro, Sr. was a substantial contributor to post-war American art for his dedication to painterly representation. While his contemporaries eschewed the figurative style of the Old Masters, De Niro reveled in it. Yet, he manipulated this representative imagery in highly imaginative ways, using reality as a framework in which to evolve his intensely expressive brushstrokes and colors. This vivid, innovative, representational work established De Niro as a distinct figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Key Ideas

Although influenced by the gestural panting of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, De Niro's aesthetic was primarily shaped through the subjects and styles of France's nineteenth-century artists and Europe's early Modernist painters.
De Niro helped to establish painterly representation as a specific, unique style in its own right, rather than a simple extension of existing European and American methods.
The ongoing friction between reality and abstraction in De Niro's paintings sets them apart from those of his contemporaries. Almost all of his works are representational, but they are also very expressive, making bold, imaginative use of color, lines, and brushstrokes.

Most Important Art

Nude with Leg Up (1970)
Although De Niro was making work at the same time as the Abstract Expressionists, he drew less on the sharp angles of Cubism than did his contemporaries. Nude with Leg Up illustrates his propensity for rich, thickly applied colors, dynamic, spontaneous curves and wavy brushstrokes. Linearity played a particularly integral role within De Niro's work; many of his paintings' compositions relied on bold outlines to give structure to the abstracted sections of color.
Oil on canvas - Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco
More Art Works


By submitting above you agree to the ArtStory privacy policy.
Like The Art Story on Facebook

Biography

Childhood

Robert De Niro was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1922. He began making art at age five and showed immediate and immense talent, eventually enrolling in adult classes at the Syracuse Museum. At only 12 years old, he impressed his teachers so much that he received his own studio in the museum school. While his Irish mother encouraged his painting, his Italian father did not. Despite his father's disapproval, De Niro continued developing his exceptional artistic skill.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Early Training

Robert De Niro, Sr. Biography

In 1939, De Niro spent a summer studying with legendary painter and teacher Hans Hofmann before spending two years on full scholarship at the avant-garde Black Mountain College in North Carolina, studying with Josef Albers. De Niro, however, disliked Albers' strict theories of color. In 1941, De Niro left Black Mountain for Hofmann's school in New York, feeling a stronger connection to Hofmann's style of creating abstract movement through color. For the next several years, De Niro studied with Hofmann in both New York and Provincetown, later working at Hofmann's school. While there, De Niro met painter Virginia Admiral. The two were married in 1942, and their son Robert De Niro, Jr., the award-winning actor, was born in 1943. Hofmann, who considered De Niro one of his greatest students, became his son's godfather. However, two years later, De Niro and Admiral separated. During this time, while De Niro and Admiral were part of New York's literary and artistic bohemian circles, De Niro worked as a guard in the Museum of Non-Objective Art, which would later become the Guggenheim Museum. The director Hilla Von Rebay became a financial supporter of his work.

Mature Period

In 1946, at only 24 years old, De Niro had his first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century Gallery, a major exhibition space at the time. Clement Greenberg was among the critics who strongly praised his work, writing, "[T]he originality and force of his temperament demonstrate themselves under an iron control of the plastic elements such as is rarely seen in our time outside the painting of the oldest surviving members of the School of Paris." De Niro's paintings during this period were abstract, but maintained figural references. Though he drew from the gestural abstraction of his New York School peers, he felt more strongly influenced by the color palette and motifs of French Fauvism and the Old Masters. Feeling closest to European artists, rather than his Abstract Expressionist peers, De Niro pursued his own, singular direction, becoming somewhat of an outsider within the New York School community. Despite his paintings' spontaneous, fluid quality, De Niro made numerous studies and drawings to carefully establish the composition before creating the final product. In fact, he disparaged his peers' desire for a fully unconscious creation of art. By the 1950's, De Niro had established what would be his definitive artistic style for the remainder of his career: modern painterly representation.

De Niro began exhibiting regularly alongside other Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline, and received positive critical support from writers such as Frank O'Hara, who in Art News called De Niro "one of the most original and powerful younger painters showing today." Yet, De Niro did not sell enough of his art to take up painting full time. Despite his imposed remove from many of the Abstract Expressionists, he did depend on occasional financial support from his fellow artists, such as de Kooning. As new artistic movements such as Pop art and Minimalism became popular, De Niro remained committed to his personal style. Discouraged by his resulting lack of commercial success compared to his contemporaries, he moved to France in 1961, returning to New York in 1965 after falling into depression.

Late Years and Death

Robert De Niro, Sr. Photo

In 1968 De Niro received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, and during the late 1960s and 1970s, he continued creating and exhibiting work. At the same time, he also taught at a variety of schools, including SUNY Buffalo, Cooper Union, and the School of Visual Arts. In 1974, he created two lithograph series at Tamarind Institute in New Mexico. In addition to his paintings and sculptures, De Niro was a writer and poet. He published a 1976 volume of poetry called A Fashionable Watering Place and contributed to art magazines such as Art/World. He moved to San Francisco in 1977, but by 1980 was back in New York, where he remained until his death from cancer in 1993. De Niro's last studio in SoHo still exists exactly as he left it, having been preserved by his son.

Legacy

Although De Niro's primary period of commercial and critical success was brief, he was well known and respected within the art world throughout his career. Through work that simultaneously reflected and sharply contradicted Abstract Expressionist thought, De Niro created a distinctive brand of painterly representation. His intense commitment to this personal style even as more popular movements took shape around him made him significant in expanding the purview of post-war American art. Today, his works can be found in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum, among others.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Robert De Niro, Sr.
Interactive chart with Robert De Niro, Sr.'s main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Artists

Henri Matisse
Hans Hofmann
André Derain
Chaim Soutine
Pierre Bonnard

Friends

Tennessee Williams
Anais Nin
Robert Duncan
Jackson Pollock
Willem de Kooning

Movements

Fauvism
Abstract Expressionism
Robert De Niro, Sr.
Robert De Niro, Sr.
Years Worked: 1933 - 1993

Artists

Larry Rivers
Jane Freilicher
Lester Johnson

Friends

Clement Greenberg
Thomas B. Hess

Movements

Neo-Fauvism

Original content written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
[Accesed ]

Useful Resources on Robert De Niro, Sr.

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Robert De Niro, Sr

By Peter Frank

paintings
Robert De Niro, Sr (1922-1993)

By Ivana Salander and Bruno Bertrand

Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922-1993): Paintings

By Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro on His Father's Art Studio

By Robert De Niro, Jr.
Newsweek
July 9, 2012

De Niro Jr. on De Niro St.

By Ann Landi
ARTnews
January 1, 2011

The Bohemian Life of Robert De Niro, Senior

By Christopher Turner
The Telegraph
March 19, 2009

Paint Brushes Full, Robert De Niro Sr. Really Thought Big

By Hilton Kramer
The New York Observer
March 7, 2005

in pop culture
Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro, Sr.

Documentary on Robert De Niro Sr.

Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s, he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
ArtStory: Hans Hofmann
Josef Albers
Josef Albers
Josef Albers
Josef Albers was a German-born American painter and teacher. Celebrated as a geometric abstractionist and influential instructor at Black Mountain College, Albers directly influenced such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Ray Johnson.
ArtStory: Josef Albers
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the twentieth century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Hans Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism
Fauvism was an early twentieth-century art movement founded by Henri Matisse and André Derain. Labeled as "wild beasts", Fauve artists favored vibrant colors and winding gestural strokes across the canvas.
ArtStory: Fauvism
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline
Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
ArtStory: Franz Kline
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French painter and sculptor who helped forge modern art. From his early Fauvist works to his late cutouts, he emphasized expansive fields of color, the expressive potential of gesture, and the sensuality inherent in art-making.
ArtStory: Henri Matisse
André Derain
André Derain
André Derain
André Derain, co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse, was a French artist whose paintings exhibit the writhing energetic lines and bright colors characteristic of the movement.
André Derain
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine was a Jewish Expressionist painter whose textured, impasto style was influential for later gestural painters. He is especially known for his portraits, landscapes, and studies of flayed meat.
ArtStory: Chaim Soutine
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
Pierre Bonnard
The French artist Pierre Bonnard, although dismissed as old-fashioned by some of the avant-garde in his lifetime, was esteemed by contemporary colorists like Matisse. A member of the Nabis group in his youth, his innovative paintings play with light, decorative surfaces, and Impressionist techniques.
ArtStory: Pierre Bonnard
Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams was an American dramatist and writer whose plays explore issues of family obligations and regret. Set in quintessentially American towns or cities, they often feature desperate characters grappling with depression, alcoholism, or the specter of insanity.
Tennessee Williams
Anais Nin
Anais Nin
Anais Nin
Anais Nin was a French-Cuban literary figure best known for her extensive journals and erotic writings. Her circles of friends included prominent writers, psycholanalysts, and artists in New York and other cities.
Anais Nin
Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan was an American poet commonly associated with the Beat movement and the San Francisco bohemian culture of the 1950s. Duncan was also a member of the Black Mountain Poets and an early proponent of gay culture and homosexual civil rights.
Robert Duncan
Larry Rivers
Larry Rivers
Larry Rivers
Larry Rivers was an American artist whose work combines the brushy texture of Abstract Expressionism with figurative elements and a Pop art style. He was an earlier practitioner of appropriation techniques, and his paintings sample from art history, commercial products, celebrity imagery, and other styles and sources.
Larry Rivers
Jane Freilicher
Jane Freilicher
Jane Freilicher
Jane Freilicher was an American painter in mid-twentieth-century New York. After studying under Hans Hofmann, Freilicher became associated with a group of quasi-abstract figurative painters, such as Larry Rivers, Nell Blaine and Fairfield Porter.
Jane Freilicher
Lester Johnson
Lester Johnson
Lester Johnson
Lester Johnson is an American painter often associated with the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. He is nown for employing an action painting approach to his canvases and employing quasi-abstract, expressionistic forms.
Lester Johnson
Thomas B. Hess
Thomas B. Hess
Thomas B. Hess
Thomas B. Hess was an art critic and historian, and a proponent of Abstract Expressionism. He served as editor of the influential magazine ART News.
ArtStory: Thomas B. Hess
Neo-Fauvism
Neo-Fauvism
Neo-Fauvism
Neo-Fauvism was a little-known European art movement that began in the 1920s, both as a continuation of the turn-of-the-century Fauvist school, and as a direct response to Surrealism and its growing popularity. The Neo-Fauves' main stance was that Surrealism was just another development of modern visual art, and not some automatic extension of the human unconscious, as popular theory expounded.
Neo-Fauvism