Richard Estes

born Kewanee, IL 1932
Kewanee, Illinois, United States
Active in
  • New York, New York, United States
  • American

Born in 1932 in Kewanee, Illinois, Richard Estes studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1952 to 1956. During the next decade he worked as a commercial illustrator and layout artist, first in Chicago and then New York, where he moved in 1958. In 1962 he spent a year in Spain, honing his eye on its vivid light and angular landscapes before returning to New York.

Because obtaining models for his night-time studio sessions was extremely difficult, Estes began roaming the city, taking photographs that could be used as subjects for his work. His interest thus moved from the human figure to diners, luncheonettes, and small storefront shops in which plate-glass windows offered only brief glimpses of the human presence. By 1966 Estes was painting full time, in a realist style that, while sharply focused, always retained evidence of the artist's brushwork.

By the 1970s Estes was a major figure in the New Realist movement, but unlike his fellow artists Philip Pearlstein and Alfred Leslie, who continued to paint from models, he concentrated on the cityscape devoid of distinct human figures. Explaining his decision to paint unpopulated scenes, Estes has said, "I don't want any emotion to intrude." Labeled a Photo-Realist, he has used photographs to develop his images, often going out early on Sunday mornings to capture empty street perspectives.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)


Richard Estes painting of a diner
Richard Estes’ Realism
October 9, 2014February 8, 2015
Richard Estes is considered the foremost practitioner of the international group of artists known loosely as photorealists and has been celebrated for more than forty-five years as the premier painter of American cityscapes.