Artist LeRoy Neiman dies in New York at 91

6:51 AM, Jun 21, 2012   |    comments
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LeRoy Neiman, the painter and sketch artist perhaps best known for his impressionistic works of some of the world's biggest sporting events, died Wednesday at age 91.

His longtime publicist Gail Parenteau confirmed his death but did not disclose the cause.

Neiman, painter of five Olympiads, countless boxing matches and horse races, along with assorted musical acts including the Beatles, also was a contributing artist at Playboy magazine.

His most recognizable works tend to be set on athletic fields, where, with quick, bold strokes, he vividly captured the intricacies of sport on canvas.

"It's the athletic excellence, action, color and drama that peaks my interest," Neiman told USA WEEKEND in an e-mail last week. "I've met and sketched most of the great athletes from the past five decades and their movement, grace and energy have kept me captivated over the years. That's what the ancient Greeks first saw and that's what caught my interest."

Though often described as an American impressionist, Neiman shrugged at the label.

"I don't know if I'm an impressionist or an expressionist," he told the Associated Press. "You can call me an American first. ... (But) I've been labeled doing neimanism, so that's what it is, I guess."

Neiman's "reportage of history and the passing scene ... revived an almost lost and time-honored art form," according to a 1972 exhibit catalog of the artist's Olympics sketches at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

"It's been fun. I've had a lucky life," Neiman said in a June 2008 interview with the AP. "I've zeroed in on what you would call action and excellence. ... Everybody who does anything to try to succeed has to give the best of themselves, and art has made me pull the best out of myself."

The St. Paul native's passion for sketching was rivaled only by his zeal for the events he so vibrantly illustrated. He tried his hand at working from photographs, but told USA WEEKEND that without experiencing the events live, they "just didn't have that verve."

"I could barely abide staying up high in the clubhouse box," he said, referring to memories at the race tracks. "It was a light operetta going on right in front of my eyes, with all the characters straight out of central casting - star jockeys and thoroughbreds, man and beast alike."

Neiman's paintings are best remembered not only for their historical subjects - among innumerable others, Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle and Teddy Roosevelt- but for their distinctive vivacity in color, which helped evoke an idiosyncratic portrait of his painting's subject.

"My colors set the mood," he said. "From (there), the characters emerged and created the narrative."

His works are hung in the permanent collections of many private and public museums. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., was selected by Neiman to house his archives.

Neiman was a World War II veteran who participated in the invasion of Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was a self-described workaholic who seldom took vacations and had no hobbies. He worked daily in his home studio at the Hotel des Artistes near Central Park, which he shared with his wife.

Neiman is survived by his wife of 55 years, Janet Byrne Neiman.


Contributing: The Associated Press

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