A BY-THE-NUMBERS LOOK AT THE COLORFUL ART – AND EQUALLY COLORFUL CAREER – OF ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST RECOGNIZABLE CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS
By Rhonda Reinhart
PRINTS IN FOCUS: LEROY NEIMAN SHOWCASE AUCTION 11192
July 19, 2022
Rebecca Van Norman
With his handlebar mustache, trademark jumpsuits and always-present cigar, LeRoy Neiman was as splashy as the bold and bright paintings for which he was famous.
Known for blurring the lines between fine art and popular art, Neiman also garnered attention for the company he kept. In addition to his decades-long friendship with Hugh Hefner, the artist and bon vivant was a confidant of Muhammad Ali and painted some of the biggest celebrities of the 20th century.
But regardless of his subject – be it a sports hero, politician, movie star or musician – there was one constant in Neiman’s work: color, color and more color. As he wrote in his 2012 memoir, All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs: “I’m a storyteller, only I tell my stories in a riot of color.”
Neiman’s signature vibrant hues will be on full display come July 19, when Heritage Auctions presents Prints In Focus: LeRoy Neiman, an auction dedicated solely to the prolific artist.
“Neiman had a passion for people, symbols, colors and the vibrancy of the human experience,” says Rebecca Van Norman, Consignment Director of Prints & Multiples at Heritage Auctions. “You can see his joy for life in his images of sports, jazz clubs, racetracks and the like. For Neiman, the subject was always more important than the style or media, and we are really excited to bring a body of work representative of that.”
In celebration of Heritage’s Neiman-focused auction, we took a by-the-numbers look at the artist’s life and times. As expected, the results were far from boring.
The number of years Neiman wrote and illustrated Playboy magazine’s “Man at His Leisure” column, a beloved series that put a spotlight on the fabulous lifestyles of the international jet set. In all, Neiman’s partnership with the magazine lasted 50 years. He also completed 100-plus paintings and two murals for 18 Playboy Clubs.
The square footage of the largest mural Neiman ever painted. Titled Summertime on the Indiana Dunes, the 56-foot-wide piece was completed in 1965 and now hangs in the lobby outside the LeRoy Neiman Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Minnesota native’s alma mater. Neiman created the mural – which was originally commissioned for the Mercantile National Bank in Hammond, Ind. – with his wife, Janet Byrne Neiman, who also attended SAIC.
The number of Olympic Games for which Neiman was the official artist. Starting with the 1972 Munich Games and continuing through the 1984 Los Angeles Games, Neiman captured Olympians at the peak of their careers. “I like to sketch them at their highest point possible of excellence,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1984. “I want them to be heroes in my paintings.” Over the years, Neiman also covered other major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, championship boxing, the Indianapolis 500 and the Tour de France.
The dollar amount in grants that the LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation awarded in Neiman’s lifetime. The foundation was established by the couple in 1986, and the grants provided much-needed funds for art institutions and programs that support at-risk kids. Today the foundation continues to fund a variety of initiatives that support and advance arts education.
The price paid for Neiman’s Roulette Table at Vegas, 1970 at a May 2021 Heritage auction. One of the artist’s most iconic works, the glamorous casino scene was later published as the popular print Roulette II. Gambling is also the subject of Neiman’s Stud Poker, 1980 and Salle Privee, 1988, two of the many serigraphs available in Heritage’s July 19 Neiman-focused auction.
The linear feet of the papers Neiman donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art in 2005. Dating from 1938 to the year of donation, the papers include biographical materials, personal and business correspondence, project files and other printed materials documenting the artist’s lengthy career. The collection also contains artifacts such as clothing, souvenirs and other Neiman paraphernalia.
The number of color illustrations in LeRoy Neiman on Safari, the artist’s 1997 book featuring vibrant depictions of the magnificent creatures he encountered while on safari in Africa. The animal kingdom also features prominently in Heritage’s July 19 auction, which offers an abundance of Neiman prints featuring wild animals in their natural habitat, including lions, elephants, leopards, zebras, cheetahs, rhinos and more.
The number of jazz greats sharing the stage in Neiman’s Big Band. Completed in 2005, the 9-foot-by-13-foot painting was donated to the National Museum of American History by Neiman’s foundation in 2015. Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington are just a few of the featured icons.
RHONDA REINHART is editor of Intelligent Collector.