One of the problems with success in the art world is that it opens the door to criticism; the greater the success, the wider that door will swing open. LeRoy Neiman’s career was successful in many, many ways, and he drew the criticism that arrives with that success. Not bothered by the critics, Neiman continued to be prolific when he was called “commercial,” and he continued to be loved by his fans worldwide. In an article published a few weeks before Neiman’s death, Mary Tabor of the Washington Times noted, “As far as Neiman was concerned, let the critics be damned.”
Born in Minnesota in 1921, Neiman began drawing when he was a child. He served in the United States Army during World War II and became a professional artist after the war. His ascent in the 1950s was marked by exhibiting in several major shows; Neiman also entered into the first of his collaborations with Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine during this period, a relationship that would profit all parties for decades to come.
By the 1970s, Neiman was a fixture on American television, seen at work painting athletes in competition, horse races, and such events as the 1972 Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky chess match in Reykjavik. Never failing to capture the action in human enterprise, Neiman also recorded the accomplishments of the participants in five Olympiads.
His painting of Hall of Fame hockey player Bobby Hull in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection is typical of his ability to capture athletes in action. It is fast-moving, vital, and driving right into the face of the viewer. LeRoy Neiman, whose career spanned seven decades, died this week at the age of ninety-one.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits
Bobby Hull / LeRoy Neiman / Acrylic on Masonite, 1968 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine
Mary Tabor, “LeRoy Neiman, 91–Artist, Provocateur–Tells All,” Washington Times, June 8, 2012..