Inducted on November 14, 2002
LeRoy Neiman has been described as the most popular living painter in America. While strikingly original, his work reflects the varied influences of Lautrec, Dufy, the New York Social Realists and the Abstract Expressionists. Probably best known as a portrayer of sporting and social events, he virtually invented the modern genre of sports art and remains its most accomplished and acclaimed practitioner. Among many other accomplishments, he was the first and only on-camera official artist for ABC-TV at the Olympics in Munich, 1972 and Montreal, 1976, and covered several other winter and summer Olympiads as an official artist. He was the first artist to create live, on-camera computer art while covering the 1978 Super Bowl in New Orleans for CBS-TV. In 1997 he was selected as the first official artist of the Kentucky Derby. But Neiman’s interest range far and wide. As a painter, printmaker and author, his subjects have included Parisian cafes’, African safaris, famous bars, five-star restaurants, urban street scenes, the opera, political figures, jazz musicians, entertainers, stage and screen stars, gambling casinos, portraits, international stock exchanges, etc.
For the last quarter-century, Neiman has created limited-edition serigraphs (silk-screen prints). Published and distributed exclusively by Knoedler Publishing, they are sold in selected galleries throughout the United States. By one estimate, the more than 150,000 Neiman prints that have been purchased to date have an estimated market value exceeding $400 million. Neiman is the author of tee books: Horse; LeRoy Neiman Posters; Winners, which was also published in Japanese; Big Time Golf; LeRoy Neiman: An American in Paris, and; LeRoy Neiman On Safari, all published by Harry N. Abrams, as well as Art and Life Style, Carnaval, Monte Carlo Chase and Casey at the Bat. Knoedler Publishing has published The Prints of Lelloy Neiman, Volumes I-III, a three volume catalogue raisonne’ of Neiman’s limited edition prints.
Over the years the artist has donated scores of his artworks to dozens of charitable causes and organizations. Through his work with Good Tidings Foundation, two LeRoy Neiman Art Centers for Youth have been built in elementary schools in California. In 1995 he gave the School of Arts at Columbia University, in New York City, an endowment of $6 million to create the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies, dedicated to the study of fine art printmaking and the development of new methods of printmaking, and including a scholarship program. A 1998 donation led to the creation of the LeRoy Neiman Center for Study of American Culture and Society at UCLA in Los Angeles.
Neiman’s work is represented in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum, the Minneapolis Museum of Art, the Hermitage of St. Petersburg and numerous other museums, public and private collections worldwide. A past member of the New York City Advisory Commission for Cultural Affairs, Neiman has received five honorary degrees and, among other honors, an Award of Merit from the American Athletic Union, a Gold Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement, a Lifetime Achievement A ward from the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and was named Boxing Artist of 1996 by Lonsdale, London.
LeRoy Neiman (born Leroy Leslie Runquist, June 8, 1921 – June 20, 2012) was an American artist known for his brilliantly colored, expressionist paintings and screen prints of athletes, musicians, and sporting events.
David McLane with Neiman (right) and the mural he created for Triple Crown of Polo
June 8, 1921
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||June 20, 2012 (aged 91)
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Residence||New York City|
|Known for||Expressionist paintings|
Neiman was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the son of Lydia Sophia (née Serline) of Braham, Minnesota and Charles Julius Runquist, who were married in 1918, and living at Grasston, Minnesota (Kanabec County) in 1921. He was of Swedish descent. His father deserted his family, and when his mother married his stepfather, John L. Niman (Neiman) in 1926, LeRoy changed to the new surname as well. His mother divorced Neiman about 1935, and married for the third time in about 1940, to Ernst G. Hoelscher, of St. Paul. She died in St. Paul, Minnesota, November 14, 1985, at age 87 years. LeRoy was raised in the Macalester-Groveland, and Frogtown neighborhoods of St. Paul. The home he lived in the longest, from about 1940 to about 1955, still stands at 569 Van Buren Avenue, in St. Paul.
Neiman served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He worked as a cook until the end of the war, when his art skills were recognized and put to use painting sets for Red Cross shows. Following his return in 1946, Neiman studied briefly at the St. Paul School of Art, then at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I. Bill. After graduating, Neiman served on the Art Institute faculty for ten years. During the time Neiman was teaching, he was exhibiting art in competitions and winning prizes. In 1954, Neiman began his association with Playboy Magazine. Neiman had met Hugh Hefner while doing freelance fashion illustration for the Carson Pirie Scott department store chain, where Hefner was a writer. Hefner and Playboy art director Art Paul commissioned an illustration for the magazine’s fifth edition. Among Neiman’s contribution over the next 50 years, he created the Femlin character for the Party Jokes page, and did a feature for 15 years titled “Man at His Leisure,” where Neiman would paint illustrations of his travels to exotic locations.
Beginning in 1960, he traveled the world observing and painting leisure life, social activities and athletic competitions including the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, championship boxing, PGA and The Masters golf tournament, The Ryder Cup, the World Equestrian Games, Wimbledon and other Grand Slam competitions, as well as night life, entertainment, jazz and the world of casino gambling.
Neiman sponsored and supported several organizations from coast to coast that foster art activities for underprivileged children such as The LeRoy Neiman Center for Youth in San Francisco and the Arts Horizons LeRoy Neiman Art Center in Harlem. He also has established facilities at various colleges, including the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University in New York and the LeRoy Neiman Campus Center at his Alma Mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Neiman donated $5 million to the School of the Art Institute, which funded the construction of the Neiman Center at the School.
He received five honorary doctorates and numerous awards, a recent Lifetime achievement award from the University of Southern California, an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and proclamations and citations. Most recently he received The Order of Lincoln award on the 200th birthday celebration of Abraham Lincoln given by The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. He has authored twelve books of his art. A documentary on his jazz painting, “The Big Band,” had its world premiere in Los Angeles in February, 2009.
Neiman produced about six different serigraph subjects a year, generally priced from $3,000 to $6,000 each. Gross annual sales of new serigraphs alone top $10 million. Originals can sell for up to $500,000 for works such as “Stretch Stampede,” a mammoth 1975 oil painting of the Kentucky Derby. In addition to being a renowned sports artist, Neiman has created many works from his experience on safari, including “Portrait of a Black Panther,” “Portrait of the Elephant,” “Resting Lion,” and “Resting Tiger.” Some of his other subjects include sailing, cuisine, golf, boxing, horses, celebrities, famous locations, and America at play. Much of his work was done for Playboy Magazine, for which he still illustrated monthly until his death.
Neiman worked in oil, enamel, watercolor, pencil drawings, pastels, serigraphy and some lithographs and etching. Neiman is listed in Art Collector’s Almanac, Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who in American Art, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World. His works have been displayed in museums, sold at auctions, and displayed in galleries and online distributors. He is considered by many to be the first major sports artist in the world, challenged only in his later years by a new generation of artists like Stephen Holland and Richard T. Slone. His work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian, the Whitney Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, Wadham College at Oxford and in museums and art galleries the world over, as well as in private and corporate collections.
Neiman married Janet Byrne in 1957. They lived in New York City, their home base for over five decades, until Neiman’s death. Their residence, inside a New York City landmark, the Hotel des Artistes over the Café des Artistes on West 67th Street, originally intended for painters, is made up of double-height rooms that overlook Central Park. Norman Rockwell once lived there, as well as celebrities Rudolph Valentino, Noël Coward, CNN founder Reese Schonfeld and former mayor John Lindsay. Neiman’s painting studio, offices, and home are on one floor, his archives on another, his penthouse at the top.
Neiman continued to paint despite having his right leg amputated, the result of a vascular problem, at a New York hospital in April 2010. Neiman’s autobiography, titled All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs was published on June 5, 2012.
Neiman died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 91, in New York City, .
- Neiman, LeRoy. Art and Life Style. ISBN 0-9600692-3-2.
- Neiman, LeRoy (2012). All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs. Lyons Press. ISBN 978-0-762778379. OCLC 756578679.
- Grossmann, Mary Ann, “St. Paul played big role in painter Neiman’s colorful life”, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 21, 2012
- “LeRoy Neiman, American (1921 – 2012)”
- All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs
- Meyer, Peter G., “Remembering LeRoy Neiman: A tribute to “the most famous artist in the world, living or dead.””, The Nation, June 25, 2012
- School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2012-05-02). “The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Dedicates New LeRoy Neiman Center in Historic Sharp Building”. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
- “Playboy artist recovering in hospital”. New York Post. April 21, 2010.
- William Grimes (June 20, 2012). “LeRoy Neiman Dies at 91; Artist of Bold Life and Bright Canvases”. The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
- Official website
- LeRoy Neiman Papers at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art
- A comprehensive Image Library of LeRoy Neiman silkscreen prints
LeRoy Neiman Dies at 91; Artist of Bold Life and Bright Canvases
Published: June 20, 2012
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
LeRoy Neiman, whose brilliantly colored, impressionistic sketches of sporting events and the international high life made him one of the most popular artists in the United States, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 91.
Mr. Neiman’s kinetic, quickly executed paintings and drawings, many of them published in Playboy, offered his fans gaudily colored visual reports on heavyweight boxing matches, Super Bowl games and Olympic contests, as well as social panoramas like the horse races at Deauville, France, and the Cannes Film Festival.
Quite consciously, he cast himself in the mold of French Impressionists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Degas, chroniclers of public life who found rich social material at racetracks, dance halls and cafes.
Mr. Neiman often painted or sketched on live television. With the camera recording his progress at the sketchpad or easel, he interpreted the drama of Olympic Games and Super Bowls for an audience of millions.
When Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky faced off in Reykjavik, Iceland, to decide the world chess championship, Mr. Neiman was there, sketching. He was on hand to capture Federico Fellini directing “8 ½” and the Kirov Ballet performing in the Soviet Union.
In popularity, Mr. Neiman rivaled American favorites like Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Andrew Wyeth. A prolific one-man industry, he generated hundreds of paintings, drawings, watercolors, limited-edition serigraph prints and coffee-table books yearly, earning gross annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.
Although he exhibited constantly and his work was included in the collections of dozens of museums around the world, critical respect eluded him. Mainstream art critics either ignored him completely or, if forced to consider his work, dismissed it with contempt as garish and superficial — magazine illustration with pretensions. Mr. Neiman professed not to care.
“Maybe the critics are right,” he told American Artist magazine in 1995. “But what am I supposed to do about it — stop painting, change my work completely? I go back into the studio, and there I am at the easel again. I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working. Other thoughts are just crowded out.”
His image suggested an artist well beyond the reach of criticism. A dandy and bon vivant, he cut an arresting figure with his luxuriant ear-to-ear mustache, white suits, flashy hats and Cuban cigars. “He quite intentionally invented himself as a flamboyant artist not unlike Salvador Dalí, in much the same way that I became Mr. Playboy in the late ’50s,” Hugh Hefner told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1995.
LeRoy Runquist was born on June 8, 1921, in St. Paul. His father, a railroad worker, deserted the family when LeRoy was quite young, and the boy took the surname of his stepfather.
He showed a flair for art at an early age. While attending a local Roman Catholic school, he impressed schoolmates by drawing ink tattoos on their arms during recess.
As a teenager, he earned money doing illustrations for local grocery stores. “I’d sketch a turkey, a cow, a fish, with the prices,” he told Cigar Aficionado. “And then I had the good sense to draw the guy who owned the store. This gave me tremendous power as a kid.”
After being drafted into the Army in 1942, he served as a cook in the European theater but in his spare time painted risqué murals on the walls of kitchens and mess halls. The Army’s Special Services Division, recognizing his talent, put him to work painting stage sets for Red Cross shows when he was stationed in Germany after the war.
On leaving the military, he studied briefly at the St. Paul School of Art (now the Minnesota Museum of American Art) before enrolling in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where, after four years of study, he taught figure drawing and fashion illustration throughout the 1950s.
When the janitor of the apartment building next door to his threw out half-empty cans of enamel house paint, Mr. Neiman found his métier. Experimenting with the new medium, he embraced a rapid style of applying paint to canvas imposed by the free-flowing quality of the house paint.
While doing freelance fashion illustration for the Carson Pirie Scott department store in Chicago in the early 1950s, he became friendly with Mr. Hefner, a copywriter there who was on the verge of publishing the first issue of a men’s magazine.
In 1954, after five issues of Playboy had appeared, Mr. Neiman ran into Mr. Hefner and invited him to his apartment to see his paintings of boxers, strip clubs and restaurants. Mr. Hefner, impressed, showed the work to Playboy’s art director, Art Paul, who commissioned an illustration for “Black Country,” a story by Charles Beaumont about a jazz musician.
Thus began a relationship that endured for more than half a century and established Mr. Neiman’s reputation.
In 1955, when Mr. Hefner decided that the party-jokes page needed visual interest, Mr. Neiman came up with the Femlin, a curvaceous brunette who cavorted across the page in thigh-high stockings, high-heeled shoes, opera gloves and nothing else. She appeared in every issue of the magazine thereafter.
Three years later, Mr. Neiman devised a running feature, “Man at His Leisure.” For the next 15 years, he went on assignment to glamour spots around the world, sending back visual reports on subjects as varied as the races at Royal Ascot, the dining room of the Tour d’Argent in Paris, the nude beaches of the Dalmatian coast, the running of the bulls at Pamplona and Carnaby Street in swinging London. He later produced more than 100 paintings and 2 murals for 18 of the Playboy clubs that opened around the world.
“Playboy made the good life a reality for me and made it the subject matter of my paintings — not affluence and luxury as such, but joie de vivre itself,” Mr. Neiman told V.I.P. magazine in 1962.
Working in the same copywriting department at Carson Pirie Scott as Mr. Hefner was Janet Byrne, a student at the Art Institute. She and Mr. Neiman married in 1957. She survives him.
A prolific artist, he generated dozens of paintings each year that routinely commanded five-figure prices. When Christie’s auctioned off the Playboy archives in 2003, his 1969 painting “Man at His Leisure: Le Mans” sold for $107,550. Sales of the signed, limited-edition print versions of his paintings, published in editions of 250 to 500, became a lucrative business in itself after Knoedler Publishing, a wholesale operation, was created in 1975 to publish and distribute his serigraphs, etchings, books and posters.
Mr. Neiman’s most famous images came from the world of sports. His long association with the Olympics began with the Winter Games in Squaw Valley in 1960, and he went on to cover the games, on live television, in Munich in 1972, Montreal in 1976, Lake Placid in 1980, and Sarajevo and Los Angeles in 1984, using watercolor, ink or felt-tip marker to produce images with the dispatch of a courtroom sketch artist. At the 1978 and 1979 Super Bowls, he used a computerized electronic pen to portray the action for CBS.
Although he was best known for scenes filled with people and incident, he also painted many portraits. Athletes predominated, with Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath among his more famous subjects, but he also painted Leonard Bernstein, the ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell, the poet Marianne Moore and Sylvester Stallone, who gave Mr. Neiman cameo roles in three “Rocky” films.
His many books included “LeRoy Neiman: Art and Life Style,” “Horses,” “Winners: My Thirty Years in Sports,” “Big-Time Golf,” “LeRoy Neiman on Safari” and “LeRoy Neiman: Five Decades.” In 1995, he donated $6 million to Columbia University’s School of the Arts to endow the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies.
His memoir, “All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs,” was published this month.