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Robert De Niro, Sr. Photo

Robert De Niro, Sr.

American Painter

Born: May 3, 1922 - Syracuse, New York
Died: May 3, 1993 - New York, New York, USA
Movements and Styles:
Abstract Expressionism
"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."
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De Niro, Robert
"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."
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Robert De Niro, Sr.

Summary of Robert De Niro, Sr.

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.

Accomplishments

  • 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 19th-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.

Biography of Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro, Sr. Photo

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.



Progression of Art

1959

Portrait of Mrs. Z

De Niro's primary subjects were representational landscapes, still lifes and portraits, such as the seated woman in Portrait of Mrs. Z. He expanded on these traditional subjects with carefully chosen combinations of vivid colors bordered by distinctive outlines, reflecting an influence of artists such as Cézanne, who also painted expressionistic figurative works. Through these works, De Niro gained recognition for connecting French Fauvist painters' colors and representational themes with Abstract Expressionists' gestural paint application.

Oil on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

1960

Pattern Still Life #1

In Pattern Still Life #1 , one of De Niro's many still life paintings, he continued using representational subject matter as a forum for expressionistic experiments with color. Often drawn to interesting patterns and designs, he closely replicated the decorative patterns found around the room, but in many other still life works he deployed a more abstracted style. He also integrated his diverse, multicultural interests into his work, commingling exotic or antique sculpture amidst everyday flowers and fruit. By the time he created this painting, De Niro had solidified the painterly representational style in which he worked for the remainder of his career.

Oil on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

1970

Nude with Leg Up

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

1976

Gray Barn in Blue Landscape

De Niro's landscapes, many of which he painted in the 1960s and 1970s, often featured a harmonious relationship between architecture and nature, with one blending into the other. In these paintings, De Niro merged deep abstraction with recognizable images of buildings, roads and plants. He also continued using the bright, Fauvist palette prevalent in his other works. Gray Barn in Blue Landscape also exemplifies the recurring overlapping of colors using thick, undulating brushstrokes.

Oil on gessoed panel - Ameringer-Yohe Gallery, New York

1978

A Fashionable Watering Place

In addition to painting, De Niro also wrote a great deal, particularly poetry, which he self-published in a 1976 book called A Fashionable Watering Place. This 10-part lithograph series of the same name combines his handwritten poetry and black and white illustrations. His expressionistic imagery brings to life the visual descriptions in his poems. The poem written on this page begins, "The rose behind your ear/ Close to your temple/ Is fading/ And you with it.

Color lithograph - Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco

1982

Crucifixion with Two Figures

Crucifixion scenes were another frequent motif for De Niro, reflecting his personal background as a lapsed Catholic who retained his interest in the religion, particularly in the ritual, art and music. Despite the specific subject matter, these paintings were as expressionistic as his other works, and thus, they sidestepped extreme religious iconography. Yet, they still possess strong emotional undertones, reinforced by the dark lines and vibrant shapes De Niro created using a brush heavily loaded with rich paint.

Oil on canvas - Estate of the Artist


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  • Neo-Fauvism
    Neo-Fauvism
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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Robert De Niro, Sr. Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 05 Dec 2013. Updated and modified regularly
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