Thursday, September 20, 2007



Morton Roberts (1927-1964) was a serious painter, a child prodigy who graduated from the fine arts program at Yale University and launched a career as an illustrator for magazines such as Collier's, Redbook and McCall's in the 1950s and early 60s.

A frenzied peasant dance becomes an abstract design

He was one of a small group of gifted illustrators selected to illustrate historical series for Life magazine. While still a young man, he won respect for this series on Russian history:

Lenin greets the troops

Arpi Ermoyan wrote about this painting,
Roberts' composition is so well conceived that although the main character of the story, Lenin, is off to the left side of the picture, the eye is immediately drawn to him by the strategically placed red flag. The horizontal line formed by the tops of the soldiers heads also leads the eye directly to him.
This is clearly an artist who knew what he was doing.

Roberts also painted a series for Life on jazz and a series on opera.

Scene from a Chicago jazz club

New Orleans jazz

Detail from series on Rigoletto

Then, as quickly as his career began, it was over. In his mid 30s, Roberts died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He had spent his short time well, and left behind a small but beautiful legacy of work. But who knows what he might have accomplished with another thirty or forty years to paint?

None of us has a guarantee that we will live long enough to realize our artistic ambitions. We should remember the lesson of Morton Roberts as we evaluate each day's work.