Morton Roberts, American (1927 - 1964)

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.

He was one of a small group of gifted illustrators selected to illustrate historical series for Life magazine.

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.

"He was a promising artist, who died at a young age of either cancer or heart attack.  His most famous works are a series of 19 paintings of "Rigoletto" (the opera) featured in the November 30th, 1962 issue of Life Magazine.

I was gifted one of the paintings by another famous artist, Joyce Ballantyne.  My father purchased another one of the Rigoletto paintings from his widow after the artist's death.

Born on January 6, 1927 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Roberts received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Yale University in 1950.  He went on to serve as an instructor at the Pratt Institute in 1950 and 1954, and then at the National Academy of Design, starting in 1961.

He was elected Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1957, becoming a full member in 1958.

Ethel Child Walker Prize, Yale University -Edwin Austin Abbey Fellowship for Mural Painting in America, National Academy of Design, 1950 - Abraham Pinanski Prize, R.A.A., 1952 - O'Hara Purchase Prize - America Water Color Society, 1953 - 2nd Benjamin Altman Prize, National Academy of Design, 1954 - E.J. Towsberg Prize, Royal Academy of Art, 1954 -Ellin Speyer Prize, National Academy of Design, 1955 - Herbert L.Pratt Purchase Prize, America Watercolor Society, 1955 - American Artist Magazine Citation and Medal of Honor, 1955 - 1st Benjamin Altman Prize, National Academy of Design, 1956 -American Watercolor Society Silver Medal, 1956 - Audubon Artist Honorable Mentions, 1957- Thomas B.Clarke Prize, National Academy of Design, 1957 - Ranger Fund Purchase, National Academy of Design, 1960 - Grand Prize for Watercolor of the Year and Gold Medal of Honor, American Watercolor Society, 1959.

Paintings Reproduced: 
Encyclopedia Britannica, Book of the Year 1957 - Series commissioned by Life Magazine:  Segregation, Civil War, Russian Revolution,History of Jazz - Colliers Magazine - Sports Illustrated - Readers Digest - McCalls - Cosmopolitan - True - Redbook - American Artists Magazine - Jours de Paris, Paris France - Krystal Magazine, Hamburg Germany - Bunte Deutsche Illustrierte, Hamburg, Germany - Atlantic Records Company, Cover of the Year.

Rigoletto Series paintings:
1)  Death Scene
2)  Rigoletto Gossiping (my father has this painting)
3)  Ballroom Scene
4)  The Curse
5)  Love Scene - Gilda & The Duke (loaned by Mr. & Mrs. Christos G. Bastis)
6)  Gilda With A Candle, About To Retire
7)  Gilda's Abduction (loaned by Mr. & Mrs. Christos G. Bastis)
8)  Rigoletto Pleading to Members of the Court
9)  Rigoletto Comforting His Daughter ( My painting)
10)  Gilda Overhears the Duke Courting Maddalena
11)  Sparafucile About to Kill Gilda
12)  Rigoletto with Body of Gilda
13)  The Duke Flirting with a Lady of the Court
14)  Caruso as the Duke
15)  The OPening Scene of Rigoletto
16)  Rigoletto Comforting Gilda
17)  Death Scene
18)  Rigoletto Sauntering Across The Stage
19)  Scene with Dancers

Additional source:
Exhibition Catalogue, Hirschl and Adler, New York, November 11, 1962 to December 8, 1962.

Leslie Robinson submitted the following information April of 2006:
My parents were friendly with Morton Roberts in Rockport, Massachusetts in the early 1950s.  Roberts died very young of a heart attack.  I remember him at our house. He always  smoked a cigar, and was very overweight. Roberts was a very talented artist.
" - Sally Dillon

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