(American, 1921- 2012)
"LeRoy Neiman was far ahead of his time. He was involved during his distinguished career in many developments that now constitute key aspects of the history of post-World War II art. He made representative art when the art world mostly deemed only abstract art acceptable. He updated the Impressionist breakthrough—the depiction of contemporary leisure life—but while the Impressionists painted middle-class leisure, Neiman took an innovative route, depicting celebrities and spectacles…he figured out how to adjust art for a media world where television made celebrities the currency of everyday life. Through his association with Playboy magazine, and friendship with Hugh Hefner, he played a key role in gaining social acceptance for art to depict female nudity as enjoyable and exciting without it needing to be attached to a religious or classical figure as in almost all previous art history. This is a huge list of achievements.
Neiman filled the void left by the flight from representation by depicting contemporary leisure life. One of the most innovative aspects of the Impressionists was their depiction of middle-class leisure. As the art historian, Meyer Shapiro, writes, “It is remarkable how many pictures we have in early Impressionism of informal and spontaneous sociability—breakfasts, picnics, promenades, boating trips, holidays—these urban idylls…present the objective forms of bourgeois recreation in the 1860s and 70s.” Yet while the themes of the Impressionists, prescient and avant-garde in the nineteenth century, still appeal to modern audiences, much of their appeal is now linked to their value as records of an earlier age. It is in Neiman’s work that we can find arguably the liveliest, most creative, and most socially-aware depiction of the leisure life of the post-World War II decades. Further, he applied vibrant color in depicting this spectacular imagery.
Neiman’s 2012 passing in Manhattan, aged 91, was inevitably an occasion for assessing his place in the pantheon of great artists. The New York Times, in a front-page tribute, that included a color photograph of the artist, compared him to Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth. Art historian Richard Brilliant located him in multiple traditions—Dutch and German artists in the 16th and 17th centuries, when popular prints were widely accepted and whose popular subjects in paintings fill our museums; Italian artists of the 18th and 19th centuries, who created works for an international clientele, depicting contemporary Italian life in the countryside, Rome and Venice—works which have been avidly sought ever since; and the Ashcan School, represented by Robert Henri, George Bellows and Reginald Marsh, who portrayed American life in works that fully captured the spirited, worthy engagement in the drama of daily life experienced by ordinary individuals.
Neiman is indeed a pivotal figure who has given us one of the most important accounts of art and culture over the last six decades. Now that the art world acknowledges that the movement away from representative art was a detour rather than the one, true path, there can be no doubt that Neiman stands as one of the great artists of his time.”
- David Halle, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
Franklin Bowles Galleries is proud to be Neiman’s leading dealer globally, in an association dating back to 1972.