Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr.

Posted by
Robert De Niro Jr.
When you hear the name Robert De Niro, you think of one of our greatest actors, but there was another man by that name who was a very talented painter. It was his father, Robert De Niro Sr.  It’s been more than 20 years since De Niro Sr.’s death at age 71, but his memory remains fresh for his son, Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, Jr., who says it was his “responsibility” to make a documentary about his father, culminating in a 40-minute film called Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. Directed by Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir, it was featured in MIFF 2014’s DOC-YOU-UP program this past March, with Peltz in attendance to introduce the screening at Paragon Grove. Against a backdrop of archival footage, photographs, and stills of De Niro Sr.’s artwork,  De Niro, Jr. reads from his father’s letters and journals, and provides a moving recollection of his father’s personal and professional struggles as part of his own mission to honor and preserve his father’s legacy and artwork.
Two sets of father & son: Robert De Niro Jr. and Robert De Niro Sr.

In the early 1930s, avant-garde European artists escaped the politically charged atmosphere at home and took teaching positions in the US, exposing American art students to the newest European trends. One of the leading teachers was Hans Hofmann, an abstract expressionist painter who set up schools in New York City and Provincetown, Mass. De Niro, Sr. studied in both locations with Hofmann, who called him one of his most promising students ever.  In 1945, De Niro, Sr.’s work was included in the Autumn Salon at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of the Century gallery along with that of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The following year, the 24-year-old artist enjoyed his first solo exhibition at Guggenheim’s Gallery—and was greatly admired by his colleagues—until his career was obscured by the pop-art movement, causing him to struggle for recognition in subsequent decades.

Robert De Niro’s Sr. SoHo studio as it remains today; Robert De Niro Sr. and Virginia Admiral (De Niro Jr.’s parents who met as fellow students of Hans Hofmann, and though they separated, remained friends until the end.)

The 70-year-old actor recently opened up about his gay father to Out Magazine, giving readers a tour of his father’s old Soho home and art studio. “It was the only way to keep his being, his existence alive here,” said De Niro Jr., who remains committed to honoring his father’s legacy after his death, maintaining the art studio exactly as it was when his father worked there, so that his children can appreciate their grandfather’s work.  De Niro expressed regrets about not talking with his father about sexuality. “Being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate; I was not aware, much, of it,” he said. “I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother (Virginia Admiral, married to De Niro Sr. from 1941-1945) didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”

Robert De Niro Sr., Robert De Niro Jr.

As a side note, this month marks Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month), held each year during the month of June, with events (pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts) attracting millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that LGBT individuals have had on history and art locally, nationally, and internationally.

Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr. will premiere Monday, June 9 at 9 PM EST on HBO. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][view trailer] —Tatyana Chiocchetti


Jaie Laplante

Jaie Laplante is the Miami Film Festival's executive director and director of programming. Learn more about Jaie on Programmers.