Painter Robert Vickrey, former Fairfield resident, dies
Published 10:00 am, Tuesday, April 19, 2011
American Realist master Robert Vickrey, a former resident of Fairfield, died Sunday morning at his Naples, Fla., apartment following a recent heart attack. He was 84.
Fairfield University arts scholar Dr. Philip Eliasoph, Vickrey's longtime friend, on Monday confirmed "with a heavy heart" Vickrey's death. The artist, who lived in Fairfield from 1957-73, is survived by his wife Beverly, among others.
"The Magic of Realism" retrospective exhibition in spring 2009 at Fairfield University and accompanying book (published by Hudson Hills Press, New York), both by Eliasoph, have been credited with helping to move Vickrey's work back "into the limelight" in American art circles.
"One of the last giants of American realism still standing" is the way Eliasoph described Vickrey at that time. For more than six decades the classically trained artist remained firmly committed to realism, with a slightly surreal twist, and was celebrated for creating masterful pieces in one of the most difficult mediums imaginable: egg tempera.
Vickrey also was known for his many iconic covers for Time magazine, including those of Robert F. Kennedy (1965), Walter Cronkite (1966) and Gen. Moshe Dayan (1967) of Israel, which are featured in the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery collection.
Born in New York City in the summer of 1926, Vickrey received a bachelor's degree in fine art from Yale University, where he mastered the Renaissance fast-drying technique of egg tempera, in which egg yolks and water are mixed to create an emulsion with the consistency of medium cream (to which color pigment is added). Fame would come at age 26, when Manhattan's Whitney Museum of American Art invited him to enter the Whitney Annual and subsequently purchased his now-famous "Labyrinth" (1951) painting.
Vickrey's distinctive style -- with tremendous details, patches of brilliant light and dramatic shadows -- has often been described as "hyper-realist" or "super-real." They are often poetic, sometimes sad, sometimes whimsical views of life that are slightly altered -- as if each work is a scene from of a dream. Childhood innocence and the complexities of modern life are frequent themes, with many paintings focusing on the elderly, children at play, urban walls, country fields and nuns in traditional habit (which Vickrey, a non-Catholic, maintained was his symbol for "fragile purity" in a harsh world).