The Birthday of Robert De Niro, Sr.

Robert De Niro, Sr., right, studying with Joseph Albers, circa 1939.

Robert De Niro, Sr., right, studying with Joseph Albers, circa 1939.

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Robert De Niro, Sr.

On May 3, 1922, Robert De Niro, Sr. was born in Syracuse, New York, to an Italian American father, Henry Martin De Niro (1897–1976), whose parents emigrated from Ferrazzano, in the province of Campobasso, Molise, and an Irish American mother, Helen M. (née O'Reilly; 1899–1999). The eldest of three children, Robert De Niro, Sr. and siblings John and Joan were raised in Syracuse.

Showing an innate artistic ability early in life, he was provided with a private studio while attending art classes at the Syracuse Museum from age eleven to fifteen. In the summer of 1938, he studied with the artist Ralph Pearson in Gloucester Massachusetts. As an older teenager, he was a student of two of the 20th century’s leading abstract painters, Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann.  From 1939 to 1940 De Niro studied at the renowned Black Mountain College under Albers and later returned to study with Hoffman in Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

This training helped to launch his stellar career, highlights of which included his solo debut in Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery in 1946, regular shows alongside de Kooning, Rothko and Kline at the Charles Egan Gallery in the 50s and  later at Virginia Zabriskie's gallery, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968, and critically acclaimed exhibitions of his work in every year of his life.

On this same date in 1993, Robert De Niro, Sr. passed away in New York City after 71 years of immensely productive and passionate dedication to his art.

Lasting legacy:

Of the recent exhibition of the paintings of Robert De Niro, Sr. at DC Moore Gallery in Manhattan in the spring of 2012, Roberta Smith of The New York Times wrote:

"...His paintings have their own touch, eloquence and integrity, as well as a bluntness of scale and brushwork...His surfaces are so lively they almost seem suspended in air.  In the expanding field of postwar American painting, more room should be made for the seductive yet rigorous art of Robert De Niro, Sr.”