Born in New York in 1923, Larry Rivers studied at the Julliard School of Music and worked as a professional jazz saxophonist before turning his attention to painting in the late 1940s. He studied with Hans Hofmann and at New York University. Initially Rivers' style and technique was similar to that of abstract expressionism, but by the early 1950s, in a radical departure from the prevailing abstraction, Rivers adopted a figurative style. Integrating advertisements and images from well-known old master paintings into his compositions, Rivers created a style that bridged abstraction and realism.
In 1953, Rivers moved to Southampton, Long Island, and began to make outdoor sculpture. That same year he also created some of his first prints and paintings with historical themes, such as his well-known version of Washington Crossing the Delaware (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). However, unlike Emanuel Leutze's nineteenth-century original (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), which is meticulously finished, Rivers made no effort to disguise his process of continuous revision. The artist left marks of erasures, alternative poses, and fragmented bodies that enliven the canvas and engage the viewer.
Established as one of America's most important postwar artists, Rivers continued, until his death on 14 August 2002, to exhibit regularly both in the United States and abroad and to create work that combined realistically rendered images within a loosely brushed, quasi-abstract background. A retrospective of his work was on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., at the time of his death.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]
Weil, Martin. "Larry Rivers, 78; Major American Figurative Artist." The Washington Post (15 August 2002): B6.