Artist Biography: Robert De Niro Sr.

Robert De Niro Sr. (1922-1993)

Poet, sculptor and artist Robert De Niro, Sr. became known during the postwar era for his dynamic, richly-colored paintings that gracefully synthesized modernist abstraction with more traditional compositions and formal themes.

Born in Syracuse, New York in 1922, De Niro was passionate about art from an early age. While still in high school, he attended art classes at the Syracuse Museum, where he was provided with a private room where he could paint independently. In addition to his early studies with etcher Ralph Pearson, he had the good fortune of studying under two of the 20th century’s leading colorists: first with Joseph Albers at Black Mountain College (1940), and later with Hans Hofmann (1941-42).

His work reflects his extensive training with these masters, as well as a strong reverence for the French avant-garde painters who influenced them. The long broken brushstrokes of Derain, the bold, lyrical contours of Matisse, and the modernist non-perspectival compositions of Bonnard are each clear inspirations in De Niro’s best works.

While studying with Hofmann at his Provincetown summer school, De Niro met painter Virginia Admiral, whom he married in 1942. The couple moved into a large, airy loft in New York’s Greenwich Village, where they were able to paint. Their illustrious circle of friends included writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller, playwright Tennessee Williams, and actress and famous Berlin dancer Valeska Gert who modeled for Hofmann’s classes. Admiral and De Niro separated shortly after their son, Robert De Niro, Jr. was born in December of 1943.

A perfectionist, De Niro Sr. often painted and repainted his canvases, completing hundreds of studies of the same composition until he was pleased with his work. He was meticulous with his choice of pigment, always searching for the perfect colors and rarely satisfied.

De Niro Sr.’s first solo exhibition was held at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century, New York, in 1946, when he was twenty-four years old. He exhibited frequently throughout the 1950s at the Charles Egan Gallery, where his work hung alongside de Kooning, Kline, and Guston.

In the early 1960s, De Niro Sr, looking for fresh inspiration, abandoned New York for Paris. As his work continued to evolve and mature, he sold fifty oil paintings and works on paper to the collector Joseph Hirshhorn, and received much critical praise, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968.

The political and cultural climate began to change in the mid-60s, however, and Pop Art eclipsed many artists working in a more traditional vein. Though the mainstream success of his contemporaries eluded De Niro Sr., he continued his brilliant exploration of color and form until he passed away in 1993, leaving behind a vibrant oeuvre that is included in museum collections such as: 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, among others. In 1995, his son, award-winning actor Robert De Niro, Jr., along with his mother, Virginia Admiral, honored the late painter by supporting an exhibition of his works at the Salander-O’Reilly Gallery in New York.


1938 Studies with Ralph Pearson
1940 Studies with Joseph Albers
1941-42 Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, New York & Provincetown, MA

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

1946 Art of this Century, Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, New York, NY
1954 Charles Egan Gallery, New York, NY, also 1950, 1953
1955 Poindexter Gallery, New York, NY. Also 1956, 1976
1958 Zabrinskie Gallery, New York, NY. Also 1960, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1968
1963 Five American Paintings, Knoedler Gallery, New York, NY
1967 State University of New York, Buffalo, NY
1969 Bard College, Annandale on the Hudson, NY
Reese Palley Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1971 Brenner Gallery, Provincetown, MA
1973 Zoller Gallery, Pennsylvania State University, PA
1974 Lithographs, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, KS
1978 David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Works on Paper, Arts Gallery, Baltimore, MD
William Grappo Gallery, Swain School of Design, New Bedford, MA
Charles Campbell Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Also 1979
1979 Graham Modern Gallery, New York, NY. Also 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986
1980 Hobart Smith College, MA
1981 Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC
Ashville Art Museum, Asheville, NC
1983 David Hamilton Gallery, Charleston, NC
1984 Art Center in Hargate, St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH
1986 Contemporary Arts Center, Great Falls, MT
Cane Kalman Gallery, London, England
1994 Salander O’Reilly Galleries, New York, NY. Also 1996, 1997, 2000, 2005
1998 Yoshii Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Also 2000, 2006
1999 Galerie Piltzer, Paris, France
2002 La Galerie Metta, Madrid, Spain
Selected Group Exhibitions:

1956 Second Generation, New York, Whitney Annual, Jewish Museum, New York, NY
1959 100 Americans on Paper, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston, MA
Selected Group Exhibitions Continued:

1960 Figure in Contemporary Painting, American Federation of Arts, New York, NY
Nebraska Art Association, Lincoln, NE
1961 7th Annual Drawing and Sculpture Show, Ball State Teachers College, Muncie, IN
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Annual, Colorado Springs, CO
1962 Recent Figure, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The Figure, Kornblee Gallery, New York, NY
Illinois Wesleyan Annual, Bloomington, IL
1965 Portraits from the American Art World, New School Center, New York, NY
1969 Hommage to Matisse, Borgenicht Gallery, New York, NY
1971 A New Consciousness, The Ciba-Geigy Collection, Ardsley, NY
1975 Reese Palley Gallery, Atlantic City, NJ/San Francisco, CA
1976 Buecker Gallery, New York, NY
1977 The Art of Pastel, Graham Gallery, New York, NY
1978 Provincetown Art Association, Provincetown, MA
Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI
1982 The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
1984 20th Century American Drawings: The Figure in Context, Terra Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
Modern Masters of Classical Realism, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, WI
Woman: A Changing Picture, Graham Gallery, New York, NY
Art Museum Association of America, San Francisco, CA
1985 Summer Yellows, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Small Works, Fine Works, Graham Modern, New York, NY
The Members of the Gallery, Albright–Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
1986 Survival of the Fittest II: Figurative Work on Paper, Ingber Gallery, New York, NY
Form or Formula, Drawing & Drawings, The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY
1992 Color as Subject, The Artists Museum, The Police Building, New York, NY
1993 Monumental Nudes, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, NY
1995 American Masters of Watercolor: A 100 Year Survey, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA
1998 Seeing the Essential: Selected Works by Robert De Niro, Sr., Leland Bell, and Paul Resika, Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2000 Reconfiguring the New York School, Center for Figurative Painting, New York, NY
Selected Works by Paul Resika, Robert De Niro, Sr., Terry St. John and Dennis Hare, Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2002 Galeria Metta, Madrid, Spain

Selected Group Exhibitions Continued:

2003 Paul Resika and Robert De Niro, Sr.: Selected Works, Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Watercolor, Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center, Auburn, NY
Gallery Selections, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, NY
2004–07 The Most Difficult Journey: The Poindexter Collection of American Modernist Paintings, The Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT (traveling exhibition)
2004 ACA Galleries, New York, NY
Galleria d’Arte Benucci, Rome, Italy
2006 Aspects of Humanity, Center of Contemporary Art, Sacramento, CA
2009 Days Lumberyard Studios: 1915-1972, ACME Fine Art, Boston, MA


Selected Collections:

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Rhode Island School of Design Museum (RISD), Providence, RI
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AK
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY
Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, NY
CIBA-GEIGY Corporation, Ardsley, NY
Yellowstone Art Center, Billings, MT
Parrish Art Museum, South Hampton, NY
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA
University Art Collections, Tempe, AZ