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#TBT: The Massive, Masculine Art of Robert Riggs

#TBT: The Massive, Masculine Art of Robert Riggs


Riggs's dark art specialized in muscular, imposing men in homosocial environments.

Robert Riggs (1896-1970) is a curious case. He was a successful artist and award-winning illustrator, famous for his love of snakes and boys. (See images at the end of this article.)

When he was young, he ran away from home and joined the circus. His interest in the grotesque and in circus scenes certainly makes sense, but he was also fascinated with the all-male worlds of the boxing ring and the military. Medical wards and asylums were also regular subject matter in his fine art lithographs.

His artwork didn't have the homey details of a Norman Rockwell illustration; in fact it was quite stripped down to essential elements. His massive, brutal male figures could hardly compare with J.C. Leyendecker's sensuously beautiful and heroic young men either. But looking at Riggs's work triggers a recognition of sorts -- an appreciation for the beauty and raw power of the male form.

He seems to have been influenced by some of the other more openly gay illustrator-artists of the day: Jared French, George Tooker, and the most overt influence, Paul Cadmus. His painting The Brown Bomber shows 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.

In his biographical information there is no evidence he was gay. There is also no evidence that he was married or had a family. But he was an artist passionate about the muscular male form and of homosocial environments, rendering both the forms and the scenes in mythic proportions.

There is a grimness to his work, like an underlying threat. Some of the work collected here was produced during the Depression. These grainy, shadowy lithographs were a common style of the period, but Riggs's work has a tension that verges on frightening, like the electric moment right before violence errupts.

Lumbermenx633_0 Two standing lumberjacks (Pennsylvania Railroad), 1946

Robert-riggs-rowing-ashore_0Rowing Ashore

Boxersx633_0Boxers, Life magazine

Libertytodowhat-x633_0Liberty to Do What?, 1941, gouache on board

The-brown-bomber-1938-robert-riggsx633_0The Brown Bomber, 1938

Riggs_wrcam28902x633_0 From a two-page spread from the August 1955 issue of Argosy magazine



Boxer_robex633_0Club Fighter, 1933-1934


Catcher-on-the-linex633_0Catcher on the Line

Post_linemenon-the-loose_0Saturday Evening Post article "Night Off," detail below


Boxer_fallsx633_0Baer-Carnera, 1934



Post_screamsof-the-mob_fullx633_0Saturday Evening Post article "Scream of the Mob," detail below


Mongolsx633_0Polovetsian Dances, 1946


Clown-alleyriggs_1983x633_0Clown Alley

On-the-lot1934x633_0On the Lot, 1921

Coney01_0A double-truck illustration of Coney Island (detail, verso)

Coney02x633_0 A double-truck illustration of Coney Island (detail, recto)

Farmer-on-the-tractorx633_0Farmer on the Tractor

Post_fixedfightx633_0Saturday Evening Post article "Fixed Fight"

Post_odowdx633_0Saturday Evening Post story "One-Punch O'Dowd"


Riggs-articlex633_0An unfortunately titled article on Riggs

Riggs_swimmingpoolx633_0Pool, 1933

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