LeRoy Neiman – The Bull Fight – 1966

Historical Information

As excerpted from the New York Times (06/21/2012): “LeRoy Neiman (b. 1921 in Saint Paul, MN), whose brilliantly colored, impressionistic sketches of sporting events and the international high life made him one of the most popular artists in the United States, died in Manhattan at age 91. Mr. Neiman’s most famous images came from the world of sports, [where he turned live sporting events into art using] watercolor, ink, or felt-tip marker sketches to produce images with the dispatch of a courtroom sketch artist. His kinetic, quickly executed paintings and drawings, many of them published in Playboy, offered his fans, gaudily colored visual reports on heavyweight boxing matches, Super Bowl games, and Olympics contests, as well as social panoramas like the horse races at Deauville, France, and the Cannes Film Festival. Quite consciously, he cast himself in the mold of French Impressionists like Toulous-Lautrec, Renoir and Degas, chroniclers of public life who found rich social material at racetracks, dance halls and cafes. Although he was best known for scenes filled with people and incident, he also painted many portraits. Athletes predominated, with Muhammed Ali and Joe Namath among his more famous subjects. A prolific artist, Neiman generated dozens of paintings each year that routinely commanded five-figure prices.

“While doing freelance fashion illustration for the Carson Pirie Scott department store in Chicago in the early 1950s, he became friendly with Mr. Hefner, a copywriter there who was on the verge of publishing the first issue of a men’s magazine. In 1954, after five issues of Playboy had appeared, Mr. Neiman ran into Mr. Hefner and invited him to his apartment to see his paintings of boxers, strip clubs and restaurants. Mr. Hefner, impressed, showed the work to Playboy’s art director, Art Paul, who commissioned an illustration for ‘Black Country,’ a story by Charles Beaumont about a jazz musician. Thus began a relationship that endured for more than half a century and established Mr. Neiman’s reputation. When Christie’s auctioned off the Playboy archives in 2003,  his 1969 painting “Man at His Leisure: Le Mans” sold for $107,550.”

This 1966 LeRoy Neiman painting  of The Bull Fight was originally owned by Hugh Hefner, who displayed it for many years at the Playboy Mansion in the famous Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. Hefner and Neiman were close friends, with Neiman going so far as to identify Hefner as one of his three closest friends in a July 1984 Esquire article. Hefner still owns many paintings created by LeRoy Neiman, but gave The Bull Fight as a gift to his friend, actor Tony Curtis. Upon Curtis’ passing in 2010, his wife Jill Ann Curtis-Weber sold The Bull Fight through the GiGi Gallery in Las Vegas, NV, presumably to its current private owner. The painting was brought to Hartmann Conservation by its private owner in 2016 for assessment and conservation treatment of its warping Upson board panel.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 25: Artist LeRoy Neiman and publisher Hugh Hefner pose in front of Neiman's Statue of Liberty painting to celebrate his new book, "LeRoy Neiman: Five Decades", in the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery October 25, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Klein/Getty Images)

Artist LeRoy Neiman and publisher Hugh Hefner pose in front of Neiman’s Statue of Liberty painting to celebrate his new book, “LeRoy Neiman: Five Decades”, in the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery October 25, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Klein/Getty Images)

Portrait of celebrity artist LeRoy Neiman and Playboy editor Hugh Hefner posing with macaw "Macbeth" during photo shoot at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills neighborhood. Los Angeles, CA 9/22/1985 CREDIT: Peter Read Miller (Photo by Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Portrait of celebrity artist LeRoy Neiman and Playboy editor Hugh Hefner posing with macaw “Macbeth” during photo shoot at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills neighborhood.
Los Angeles, CA 9/22/1985
CREDIT: Peter Read Miller (Photo by Peter Read Miller /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Artifact's Condition Prior to Treatment

Upon examination of The Bull Fight, the painting was found to be executed in an oil medium on an Upson board panel and had a heavy surface coating of discolored varnish, grime, and nicotine. The artwork was signed by the artist in the lower viewer’s left corner – “LeRoy Neiman 66.” Upson board, a laminated adhesive-bound structure of ground up wood and paper is acidic by nature and is now quite weak. When viewed using ultraviolet illumination, the painting fluoresced the characteristic yellow/green color of a natural resin varnish coating. Ultraviolet illumination also indicated a “y” shaped tear in the Upson board through to the front of the painting near the bull’s chest that had been overfilled and heavy-handedly overpainted using black spray paint during previous restoration.

The Upson board showed signs of having been previously damaged by water at some point, which ran down both the front and back of the painting and caused the panel support to warp and bowing throughout most of the painted surface. A wide strip of brown gummed tape around all four edges of the Upson board had become brittle and started to lift off both the back of the panel and the inner edges of the frame. The painting had been backed with a full single sheet of acidic black paper secured along the edges with ATG framer’s tape, which covered the brown gummed tape. There was a remnant of a printed label present on the back of the painting, which had been applied with the printed face inward. The label inscription outlined the previous restoration of the painting. The label text was partially visible because the paper support had become somewhat transparent, but was flipped and not easily legible. The painting also showed evidence of having brads/nails driven through and bent over the back edges of the Upson board to secure it into a frame. The accompanying frame did not appear to be original, but was in excellent condition and exhibited only minor edge and corner abrasions or scratches.

Treatment of the Artifact

Heavy layers of discolored natural resin varnish, surface grime, nicotine and restorer’s overpaint concealing damaged areas were removed using organic solvents. The original Neiman paint was extremely stable. Following cleaning, it was discovered that Neiman had purposely used both very shiny and very matte paints in his composition, which had not been apparent under the previous varnish coating. The cleaning of the discolored varnish also revealed much more vivid paint colors and additional areas of structural damage to the Upson board panel, including a “T”-shaped puncture to the left of the matador’s head and a 10″ vertical break with a “U”-shaped indented center on the underside of the bull’s chin. The “T”-shaped puncture had not been a clean break and the torn edges were chamfered. In order to repair this damage, a surgical scalpel was used to make a cut perpendicular to the painting’s surface through the Upson board along the surface profile of the puncture. This eliminated all chamfered tear edges and allowed for proper flattening and alignment of the puncture from the back of the Upson board. A small rectangular section of the back of the Upson board behind the puncture was removed with a surgical scalpel down to half the thickness of the Upson board support and acid-free matboard was inserted into the void and secured with adhesive.

Warping and deformities in the panel were drastically reduced using a process of applying distilled water and increased weight from the back, as well as a series of shallow cuts where necessary.  This procedure drastically decreased the deformations, but the panel was still not in plane enough to securely mount it to a secondary aluminum support panel. This was successfully remedied by again wetting the back of the panel with distilled water was and mechanically thinning the Upson board using a surgical scalpel and flat, round-ended spatula to the depth of the previous cuts in the panel. The panel was then successfully flattened completely into plane under acrylic sheeting and additional weights. Once flat, the painting was mounted onto a custom built aluminum-clad honeycomb panel with wooden inset tacking edges. The Upson board panel and new aluminum support panel were both coated on the back with thermoplastic adhesive. Once the adhesive layers were dry, the painting was adhered to the secondary support panel on the vacuum hot table using heat and vacuum pressure. The secondary aluminum panel provided stability and would prevent any more major structural damage or warping of the Upson board in the future.

An isolating spray coating of varnish was applied to the entire surface of the painting in order to separate the original artist’s work from conservation work, as reversibility is a standard tenant of quality conservation work per AIC standards. All losses in the painted surface were filled with gesso, sealed locally with varnish, and inpainted using conservation-grade paints. A second coating of varnish was applied to the inpainted painting, which was light enough to prevent over-saturating any original paint that had intentionally been left matte. Gloss picture varnish was brush applied were necessary to appropriately match the sheen of the inpainting to that of Neiman’s paints.

The existing frame was lightly surface cleaned to remove grime and nicotine using dilute detergents and mild organic solvents. The painting was then properly reframed using new brass hanging hardware, “D” ring hangers, and braided picture wire appropriate for a painting of this size and weight. The framed artwork was then wrapped in museum-quality materials and carefully crated for return transport to the client. Conservation of The Bull Fight was documented with written condition reports, treatment proposals, treatment reports and high-quality photography before, during, and after all treatment phases.

Photographic Documentation