Robert De Niro Sr. (1922-1993). Two Figures, c. 1955. Ink, paint, charcoal, pastel and conte crayon on paper. Sheet measures 26 x 40 inches; 28 x 42 inches framed. Signed lower right. Excellent condition.
Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922-1993) was a postwar artist whose paintings combined modernist abstract and expressionist methods with traditional compositions and subject matter. Part of the New York School of the forties and fifties, De Niro, painted representational subject matter—landscapes, still lifes, and figures—but used these themes primarily as formal constructs for exploring the possibilities inherent in paint, color, and form.
De Niro’s utilization of action painting and gestural expression places his work within the abstract expressionist discourse but it nonetheless remains firmly grounded in European, specifically French, antecedents.
Born in Syracuse, New York, De Niro showed artistic promise at a very early age. At 18, he attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina where he studied under Josef Albers. However, chafing under the rigidity of Albers’ theories, he decamped to New York a year later, in 1941, to study with Hans Hofmann.
De Niro had his first solo show in 1946 at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery Art of This Century. Throughout the fifties he exhibited at the Charles Egan Gallery alongside artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston. In the 1960s, he moved to Paris, where he continued to paint, enjoying the patronage of legendary collector Joseph Hirshhorn, and receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968.
De Niro often executed hundreds of studies of a single composition and scraped and repainted individual canvases repeatedly until he achieved a balance of color and line. He held a strong reverence for 19th-century French painting and greatly admired the French modernists, favoring the works of André Derain, Henri Matisse, Chaim Soutine, and Pierre Bonnard, among others. Their influence, especially in regards to De Niro’s brushwork and palette, is evident in his work.
De Niro continued to focus on his primary painterly interests of color and form until his death in 1993. Recently, De Niro, Sr.’s work has received renewed attention and, in 2005, a 208-page monograph on his life and work, written by Peter Frank, was published.
Robert De Niro work is represented in major American museums including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.