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.
- Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, c. 1926-1982 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Robert De Niro, Sr., artwork at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden