Robert Hamilton Biography


My fiction now is that I want to be the best totally unknown painter in the world.

RHamilton-portrait-Lg Robert Hamilton almost fulfilled his fantasy. He was an influential, modernist painter in New England in the last half of the 20th century - an idiosyncratic genius highly respected for improvisation, but relatively unknown today.

He was born in Seneca Falls, NY, entered Rhode Island School of Design in 1935, and earned his degree in painting in 1939. He then earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II as a captain and P47 bomber pilot with 100 missions. In 1948, he returned to RISD to teach painting and drawing, married Nancy Dillon, and raised two children, Vicki and Scott, now a well-known, jazz saxophonist. He and Nancy retired in 1981 to Port Clyde, ME. There they set up a garage studio and three small galleries nearby, where they presented new work each summer for visitors.

Hamilton's friend and neighbor, Andrew Wyeth, called him "a real painter." His sophisticated, yet humorous, innovations are like no one else's – "the nth whoopee of sight," according to disciple, Richard Merkin, a reknowned dandy and illustrator for The New Yorker. Hamilton painted quirky interpretations of animals, kids, friends, air-corps buddies, faculty, performers, admired painters, and other notables. Even his last works, when he was nearly blind, are amazingly fresh, funny and youthful. He was especially influenced by Max Beckmann and the jazz greats. He said that painting had to be like jazz improvisation and that, "The picture makes itself. When I'm finished, I don't know how the hell I did it."

Hamilton taught 34 years at RISD, mentored many successful painters, produced well over 600 paintings, had many exhibits, has work in many private, university and museum collections, and was presented as a "Maine Master" on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. He is not known more widely among the general public because, instead of aggressively promoting his art, he concentrated on painting virtually every day for over 55 years.

Robert Hamilton's many devoted followers are convinced that it is only a matter of time before he is recognized as one of America's truly important painters.