Perspective drawings, 1965
b. 1923, Bronx, New York
d. 2002, Southampton, New York
Larry Rivers was an American artist. Born in the Bronx to Ukrainian immigrants, Rivers grew up studying the piano and developed a great enthusiasm for jazz. After serving with the United States Army Air Corps band, he enrolled at Juilliard. Rivers did not turn to the visual arts until his early twenties, when the wife of one of his band mates introduced Rivers to modern art and encouraged him to enroll in one of Hans Hoffman’s classes. Rivers was quick to absorb Hoffman’s theories of color and form, but rejected the notions of pure abstraction that were so popular at the time.
In 1948, Rivers saw the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Confronted by the artist’s handling of the human figure (a subject shunned by Rivers’s contemporaries) Rivers was emboldened to produce new works and began exhibiting the following year. Soon after this creative breakthrough, Rivers traveled to Paris where he studied the works of Courbet and Manet, among others. Upon returning to New York, he produced one of his most famous works: a parody of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. The emergent group of Abstract Expressionist artists immediately rejected the painting; however, MoMA promptly acquired it for its permanent collection. Today, the painting is often cited as a missing link between the Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements. Rivers’s career reached its maturity in the 1960s. The artist would continue to experiment across media, including numerous video projects, and he remained a personality on the New York scene until his death in 2002.
Rivers’s work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In New York, his work is included in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.