Larry Rivers, ‘Marriage Photograph’, 1961, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

Each: 71 1/2 by 47 7/8 in (181.6 by 121.6 cm.)
Overall: 71 1/2 by 95 3/4 in. (181.6 by 243.2 cm.)

From the Catalogue

Larry Rivers’ seminal work Marriage Photograph from 1961 displays his groundbreaking contribution to art history and his deeply personal incorporation of his life into his art. The expressive fields of color that compose the work and blur the figures' faces are juxtaposed against the text, creating a unique hybrid between Abstract Expressionism and Pop art without subscribing to either. This combination of styles and incorporation of his personal life was a radical innovation by Rivers and a staple in much of his work—helping pave the way for the Pop art movement in America. Rivers was both influenced by and an inspiration to some of the most renowned Pop artists including Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. Warhol himself said, “Larry’s painting style was unique–it wasn’t Abstract Expressionism and it wasn’t Pop. It fell into the period in between. But his personality was very Pop” (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, New York 1980, p. 16). Whereas Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Wesselmann renounced any blatant autobiographical involvement with their work and focused instead on commercial culture, Rivers’ chose to incorporate the deeply personal aspects of his life into his work.

Many themes that permeate Rivers’ work come from his position as an outsider both as a Bohemian and as a Jewish Immigrant. He was fascinated with identity and his familial heritage. Created in the first year of a productive decade for the artist, Marriage Photograph ingeniously incorporates stenciled text, photography, and action painting. Depicting photos selected from the artist’s old family wedding album, the diptych has been boldly stamped with the words ‘rejected’ and ‘copy’ as if passed over by the wedding photographer. Marriage Photograph belongs to a series begun in 1951 that includes The Burial, exhibited at his first one-man show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York. The present work is a prime example of Rivers’ interest in fusing narrative figure painting with the predominant Abstract Expressionist style. Here Rivers’ paints his impression of the photograph—injecting more emotion than was perhaps authentic with his strokes of paint. Rivers’ unique artistic contributions have been recognized by many scholars and critics including Sam Hunter who wrote, “Rivers fashioned a new and potent artistic identity which mixed hedonism with disciplined craft, the existentialist self-reference of the Action painters and a more lighthearted autobiographical obsession. Ingeniously, he made art of his own life, his friends, his family, and, perversely, even from a nostalgic dream of art history and lofty ‘tradition.’ His art, in fact, thrived magnificently on the very contractions so conspicuously advertised by his life” (Sam Hunter, Larry Rivers, New York 1970, p. 13).

In Marriage Photograph, with its somber tonalities and brushy composition, a viewer sees Rivers’ adept ability to render figures with a wide range of emotion. Rivers commented on his desire to give ambiguous expressions to the figures' faces stating, “One is a victim of its look. I can’t express pity, hatred, joy, anxiety; I have to work on it until the expression or the look is something you cannot give name to” (ibid., p. 22). Marriage Photograph successfully accomplishes just that—a feeling of nostalgia and empathy that is hard to place but nonetheless impactful. Marriage Photograph spiritedly showcases his integral and diverse contribution to American art making in the post-war period.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed, titled and dated Aug 61 on the reverse of each canvas

London, Gimpel Fils Gallery, Larry Rivers: Works of the 50s and 60s, October 1976, cat. no. 10
Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, POP!?, March - June 1999

Sam Hunter, Larry Rivers, New York 1972, pl. 26, p. 83, illustrated in color

Gimpel Fils Gallery, London
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1979

About Larry Rivers

Painter, sculptor, poet, and musician Larry Rivers was an established figure in the New York School, recognized for creating large paintings merging abstract and narrative elements, as in Washington Crossing the Delaware (1953), where the general leads his men through a space defined by murky oil washes and broad gestural brushwork. Rivers studied in the late 1940s under Hans Hofmann, the artist often regarded as the grandfather of Abstract Expressionism, but he never abandoned figuration, his compositions often including human subjects and text, as in Vocabulary Lesson (Polish) (1964). Rivers’ work is often compared to that of postmodern artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and is considered an important precursor to Pop art. As Andy Warhol once said, “Larry’s painting style was unique—it wasn’t Abstract Expressionism and it wasn’t Pop, it fell into the period in between. But his personality was very Pop.”

American, 1923-2002, Bronx, New York, based in New York, Southampton, New York and Zihuatanejo, Mexico