Robert Riggs

Known for his paintings of prize-fighting and circus-genre scenes and lithography of gigantic size compositions, Robert Riggs had a highly successful career as an artist, especially in the 1930s and 40s. His painting "The Brown Bomber," showed the boxing victory of Joe Louis over Max Schmeling. This is one of the paintings that earned Riggs election to the National Academy of Design in 1946 He was born in Decatur, Illinois and as a young man ran away from home and joined the circus. He studied at the James Milliken University in Illinois and then trained at the Art Students League in New York, but his study was interrupted by Army service in World War I. He stayed overseas and attended the Academie Julian in Paris and then returned to the United States where he settled in Philadelphia and worked for N.W. Ayer & Sons, an advertising agency for whom he did numerous illustrations. He was active in the Germantown Boys Club, where he worked with an Indian lore group. He was a collector of European, Asian and African artifacts, and his studio was like a museum. ( In 1937 Charles Coyner of N.W. Ayer & Son commissioned Riggs to a Hawaii series of drawings and lithographs to use as illustrations in advertisements for Dole Pineapple and Co. Other artists in the campaign includeded Paul Landacre, Georgia O’Keefe and Cassandre a poster artist. All except Riggs were invited to come to Hawaii to create the works for the campaign. Although Riggs received a substantial fee for the work, the size of the compositions did not warrant sending him to Hawaii. So instead, Riggs worked from photographs and memory of his south Pacific travels in the mid 1920’s. These were all intended as illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post, but appeared in other publications as well. The series of designs created by Riggs totaled at least 17 prints, enough to provide the ad agency and the client enough material from which to choose images to publish. Not all the illustrations were reproduced as illustrations, however. The Library of Congress has 12 prints from the series, only 4 of which were published in the Saturday Evening Post. These appeared in the fall of 1937 in the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. N.W. Ayer probably provided some of the titles, and Riggs just called the series Hawaii and gave some of the prints a series number, “Hawaii #1, #2, and so on. Photomechanical reproductions of some of the prints “suitable for framing” were sent to Dole customers who responded to the ad campaign by sending Dole Co. product labels. The pencil signed lithographs, printed on Rives and published by Riggs in an undocumented edition size, are extremely rare and some were not even available for use in creating the catalogue raisonne’.
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