David Sylvester ('Mr Art')

David Sylvester ('Mr Art'), by Larry Rivers, 1962 - NPG 6675 - © Estate of Larry Rivers/ DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2018

© Estate of Larry Rivers/ DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2018

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David Sylvester ('Mr Art')

by Larry Rivers
oil on canvas, 1962
72 in. x 54 in. (1830 mm x 1370 mm)
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, the estates of Francis Bacon and John Edwards, the Henry Moore Foundation and members of the Sylvester family, 2004
Primary Collection
NPG 6675

Sitterback to top

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Mr Art was painted when Sylvester's public profile had reached a zenith in the early 1960s, and is a rare example of Rivers portrait work. 1962 was also the year of Rivers' first exhibition in London at Gimpel Fils. Mr Art demonstrates the apparently spontaneous brushwork that Rivers had adopted from the Abstract Expressionists, although, living in Paris at the time, it may be evidence of the influence of Tachism, allied with his carefully-observed figurative subject matter. This portrait is representative of an era, and encapsulates much of the dialogue between the figurative and the abstract that was current at the time. Its fusion of Abstract Expressionism and figuration embodies ideals held by both sitter and artist; ideals that inspired a generation of artists, among them David Hockney. The title of the painting and that of its study, I Like David Sylvester, are indicative of Sylvester's standing in the international art community, and of the empathy between artist and sitter; they shared a Russian-Jewish heritage, a passion for Jazz, and similar views on the purpose of art.

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Events of 1962back to top

Current affairs

After a series of by-election defeats, the prime minister, Harold MacMillan organises a drastic cabinet reshuffle, dismissing one third of his cabinet. Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe's rye comment summed up the desperate action: 'greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his friends for his life.'
Britain suffers the 'Big Freeze' with no frost-free nights between 22nd December 1962 and 5th March 1963.

Art and science

The Beatles have their first hit with Love Me Do and release their first album Please Please Me.
The new Coventry Cathedral is consecrated and creates a showcase for British artistic talent with the first performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, a wall hanging by Graham Sutherland, stained glass by John Piper, and sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Elizabeth Frink.


The world comes to the brink of nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis. In response to the USA's nuclear advantage, the USSR sent missiles to Cuba. The crisis lasted for 12 days before a deal was finally stuck between Khrushchev and Kennedy in which the Cuban missile bases were dismantled in return for the secret removal of US missiles from Turkey.

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