Richard Lindner was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1901 to a bourgeois Jewish family. His early studies were in music; at a young age, he seemed destined for a career as a concert pianist. His interests shifted towards the visual arts, however, and he transferred from Nuremberg’s Conservatory to the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1925. After he studies in Munich were completed, Lindner spent a formative year in Berlin, absorbing the city’s culture, until he returned to Munich in 1929 to become the art director at the large publishing house, Knorr & Hirth. Being both Jewish and a Social Democrat, however, Lindner was forced to flee Germany in 1933 upon Hitler’s ascent to power. Lindner settled in Paris, where he continued work as a graphic designer until 1939, when he was interned as an alien, after which he joined the French Army for two years. Upon his discharge in 1941, Lindner travelled to the United States, settling in New York City, where he once again worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for various magazines such as Fortune, Harper’s Bizaar, and Vogue. Almost nothing remains of his work from Germany and France, and scant remains of his earliest work in New York City.
Lindner’s mature work started unusually late in his career; in 1952, he decided to stop working as a commercial artist and devote his entire time to drawing, painting, and his teaching at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. His first works from this period consist of refined draughtsmanship, pastel colors, and subtle tonal nuances, evoking childhood and adolescent memories, particularly those pertaining to sexual initiation and fantasy.
Lindner characterized this work from the 1950s as more “European” – a recollection of his past, and his later art as American. Indeed, many of his later canvases are of scenes from his adopted city, New York, which he depicted as flat, brilliantly colored planes, reminiscent of Léger’s mechanical-like environments. Lindner combined representational elements, such as figures of gangsters, pimps, and whores, with abstract shapes to communicate the raucous nature of the glitzy underground world connected to areas like Times Square. He had his first one-man exhibition at the Betty Parson’s Gallery in 1954, a show that highlighted this new style.
In 1965, Lindner ceased teaching and painted full-time. Beginning in 1973, he spent half of the year in Paris, his second wife’s hometown, resulting in canvases that were a fusion of his American and European work. He returned to his more autobiographical themes, but depicted them in his new, cubo-mechanical style. Lindner died in New York in 1978.
Richard Lindner’s work in included in several major collections worldwide: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain; Smithsonian, Washington D.C.; Tate Gallery, London, UK; Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA.
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