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 Lawrence Rothbort  (1920 - 1963)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: urban views, sport genre, portrait, and still life paintings

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Ad Code: 3
Lawrence Rothbort
from Auction House Records.
Floral Still Life
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is from Harriet Semegram, dealer of the artist's work from 1954 to 1971:

Lawrence Rothbort was born March 1920 in Brooklyn, New York. He was a model from infancy for his father, American Impressionist Samuel Rothbort. A high school dropout at 16, he sought various trades with each experience ending in disappointment and dissatisfaction. In his late teens he became an avid reader of philosophy, religion and mysticism which, eventually, led him to become a moral vegetarian.

He was a Pacifist and would not serve in World War II; a requirement for not serving in the military was to work on American farms due to the manpower shortage. He spent the year 1944 through 1945 living in the Pocono woodlands as a hermit, closely observing nature and living off the land. In 1945, he experienced an epiphany and committed himself to becoming an artist. For the entire year of 1945 with the exception of 2 or 3 holidays, he executed a painting every single day even during the bitter cold. Rain or snow had him painting from life, but indoors. His father, artist Samuel Rothbort told him "Nature will teach him how to paint."

He chose to cut himself off from his contemporaries and created a difficult path for himself. The Charles Barzansky Gallery gave him his first one man show in 1947. The reviews were excellent comparing his drawings to the "old masters" "extraordinary" and his oils "outstanding", "admirably executed", "...a Seurat painter...", "...most personal revelation of an arresting

Like his father, he recorded the ever changing landscape of New York, including 5th Avenue with flags - always on location and never touching up or finishing an outdoor work in the studio. He stated their "Direct Art was synonymous with truth."

He worked in oil, casein, pen & ink and glass. Depending upon the subject and medium, his work would take anywhere from 3 months to one and a half years; working every day for no less that 8 - 12 hours. In 1954, using discarded glass from the shores and junk piles, he embarked on a new phase in his career and began creating mosaics.

In 1956 he married a woman from Brooklyn (Marlene - unknown last maiden name) with whom he later had three children. At the end of 1956, he moved to Florida, and it was there that two of the three children were born. The demands of family life saw him work less and less at his art. He completed three major works, two large oils; one of his wife nursing their first born surrounded by everything they owned in their life. This huge major work done in oil, took him eighteen months to complete. He also did one still life mosaic and another oil painting of their son in a playground.

In 1963, in a store-based gallery and apartment, in an attempted robbery, Lawrence Rothbort was shot to death in front of his pregnant wife and two children ages 4 and 7 respectively. He had refused to give the assailant the last five dollars he had.

In February 1964, a memorial exhibit was held at the Riverside Museum and he received outstanding reviews. As a result of that exhibit some of his work is now in the Rose Museum at Brandeis University, the outstanding American collection of Dorothy and Murray Handwerker, Dr. & Mrs. Kaplan, Florence, Italy and many other collections.

Most of his work is not signed. Only some of his earlier pieces. However, Harriet Semegram, his friend and art dealer, cataloged and photographed his work and has authenticated them. He believed that the way he painted was entirely unorthodox, entirely original, only in some ways traced back to the Egyptians, could never be copied. As one reviewer wrote, "If some of the gallery visitors come looking for the birth of an American Van Gogh, not all of them go away disappointed."

His premature and tragic death deprived us of still greater promise and
Addendum from a family member requesting anonymity:

"There was a magnificent four page magazine article written about him in November, 1955 as follows: Cosmopolitan Magazine - November, 1955, Title: "What One Artist Sees" Author: E.M.D. Watson. The information and photos were produced and sold to Cosmopolitan Magazine by his dealer, Harriet Semegram Barry.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography is based on information provided July 2002 by family members:

Lawrence Rothbort, son of the prominent folk artist Samuel Rothbort, was born in Brooklyn in 1920, and achieved fame for his heavily wrought expressionist canvases, earning comparison to Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaughin.

Rothbort grew up in Brooklyn. He dropped out of school at age sixteen and worked various menial jobs while studying philosophy and mysticism at night. At the age of 24, he left home for the Poconos, where he would live as a hermit for one year before finding the path he was to follow for the rest of his life.

Rothbort returned home in 1945 convinced that he would become an artist. He lived with his parents in Brooklyn and worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week, grinding his own paints and, self trained, experimented in oils watercolours, pen and ink. He developed several new techniques that would mark his work, such as the patient application of paint to the canvas with sharpened twigs, and the combination of oil painting with glass mosaic. Much of his work incorporated thousands of bits of glass, and it was not unusual for a piece to take several months for completion.

Rothbort never worked from photographs, asserting that it was more important to be in direct contact with a place in order to convey feelings about the location. His painting orbit was Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and he often traveled with his supplies in a baby carriage. For the early part of his career, he was supported financially by his father's wood-carved sculpture. In fact, he and his father co-wrote a book titled "Out of Wood and Stone."

His intricate, realistic pen and inks were compared by critics to those of the elder Bruegel. Rothbort's first showing was in 1947 at Barzansky Gallery, where he was lauded by critics as a descendant of Gaughin.

In 1955, Rothbort married Marlene, with whom he had three children. They lived for a period in Florida, where he completed an enormous oil painting reminiscent of Medieval Madonnas, using her and their infant son as models.

Returning to Brooklyn in 1960, Rothbort established a small gallery behind the family's store-front apartment, but he became bitter because he had little financial success. Rothbort was murdered in 1963 in his studio by a robber whom Rothbort had denied the fifteen dollars he had for grocery money. He left a pregnant widow with children ages two and six, deeply in debt.

His death sparked a memorial exhibit four months later at Riverside Gallery, and a slew of newspaper articles praising the then undiscovered artist. As one critic viewing the memorial exhibit said "He was odd, inexplicable, and I think he developed an insularity you can feel in his work. He certainly turned out to be many times the artist the critics found so promising in 1947." A reviewer for the New York Post, 2/12/1964 wrote: If some of the gallery visitors come looking for the birth of an American Van Gogh, not all of them go away disappointed."

Rothbort's signature was in fact his lack of it. As he always claimed, his work was too original to have been done by anyone else.

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