Robert De Niro, Sr.
Syracuse, New York
New York, New York, USA
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.
- 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 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.
Important Art by Robert De Niro, Sr.
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Robert De Niro, Sr.
- Robert De Niro, SrBy Peter Frank
- Robert De Niro, Sr (1922-1993)Our PickBy Ivana Salander and Bruno Bertrand
- Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922-1993): PaintingsBy Robert De Niro
- Robert De Niro, Sr. (1922-1993): LandscapesBy Robert De Niro
- Robert De Niro on His Father's Art StudioOur PickBy 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, SeniorOur PickBy Christopher Turner / The Telegraph / March 19, 2009
- Paint Brushes Full, Robert De Niro Sr. Really Thought BigBy Hilton Kramer / The New York Observer / March 7, 2005
- In the Name of the FatherBy John Baxter / The Sydney Morning Herald / September 26, 2002
- Robert De Niro, 71, A New York Painter and Actor's FatherBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / May 7, 1993