Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr., and Joseph Hirshhorn

June 1, 1967, letter, De Niro to Hirshhorn, in which De Niro thanks Hirshhorn for buying one of his portraits and apologizes to Hirshhorn and his wife, Olga, for a "regrettable time in Paris," during which De Niro and Hirshhorn had a large disagreement, one for which De Niro would apologize for years to come. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04730a.

June 1, 1967, letter, De Niro to Hirshhorn, in which De Niro thanks Hirshhorn for buying one of his portraits and apologizes to Hirshhorn and his wife, Olga, for a "regrettable time in Paris," during which De Niro and Hirshhorn had a large disagreement, one for which De Niro would apologize for years to come. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04730b.

June 14, 1967, letter, Hirshhorn to De Niro, in which Hirshhorn accepts De Niro's apology and assures De Niro that he "is a talented man and I have never failed to give you the recognition you deserve. I have recommended your work to many, many people I meet in my travels." Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04729.

April 8, 1968, letter, De Niro to Hirshhorn, in which De Niro thanks Hirshhorn for his continued support and for Mr. Lerner's (the curator of Hirshhorn's art collection) recommendation for a Guggenheim Fellowship De Niro has just received. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04728a.

April 8, 1968, letter, De Niro to Hirshhorn, in which De Niro thanks Hirshhorn for his continued support and for Mr. Lerner's (the curator of Hirshhorn's art collection) recommendation for a Guggenheim Fellowship De Niro has just received. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04728b.

February 16, 1971, letter, De Niro to Hirshhorn thanking him for a check and offering to paint Hirshhorn's portrait. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2013-04735.

July 10, 1973, letter, De Niro to Abram Lerner [Lerner forwarded the letter to Hirshhorn], in which De Niro question Hirshhorn's recognition and proper compensation for previous works. The Paris disagreement again surfaces. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04737.

July 10, 1973, letter, De Niro to Abram Lerner [Lerner forwarded the letter to Hirshhorn], in which De Niro question Hirshhorn's recognition and proper compensation for previous works. The Paris disagreement again surfaces. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04738.

July 10, 1973, letter, De Niro to Abram Lerner [Lerner forwarded the letter to Hirshhorn], in which De Niro question Hirshhorn's recognition and proper compensation for previous works. The Paris disagreement again surfaces. Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg no. SIA2014-04739.

Last week I caught an interesting and moving documentary on HBO, Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. By coincidence, just a few days earlier I was looking through our finding aid to the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers in the Smithsonian Archives collection. Hirshhorn had gained his fortune in the mining and oil industries, and also amassed a large art collection - the core of which became the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden that opened in 1974 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The finding aid to Hirshhorn's papers listed a folder containing correspondence with Robert De Niro, and I wondered at the time, why would actor Robert De Niro be writing Joseph Hirshhorn?

As I started watching the documentary, it finally clicked that Hirshhorn's relationship was with Robert De Niro, Sr., part of the New York School of artists who had success in the 1940s and 1950s, but whose fortunes would soon fade in the 1960s and 1970s when Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism began to take center stage, and De Niro refused to change his artistic style and point of view.

The documentary is a son's tribute to his father and his father's art.

The De Niro/Hirshhorn correspondence echoes themes in the documentary and sheds additional light on De Niro Senior's financial struggles and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with art dealers and patrons. 

Related Collections

Related Resources

Leave a Comment

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.