Vickrey attended Wesleyan University and completed a B.A. degree at Yale in 1947. The following winter he took classes with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League, then returned to Yale for a B.F.A. degree. The 1950s were successful years for Vickrey. In addition to painting, he made experimental films, and in 1957 began traveling around the world for Time magazine, doing sketches of movie stars and royalty. In his work Vickrey assumes the viewpoint of the realistic observer, but calls himself "anti-romantic," and says that to the careful viewer his paintings "always [convey] a sense of danger." He paints meticulously detailed images using egg tempera, but the contrived arrangements of figures and austere landscape elements reflect Vickrey's interest in transforming outmoded social and cultural symbols into forms that menace the individual. A memorial statue shrouded by drapery, for example, becomes "a corrupt beast of war."
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)
Robert Vickrey graduated from the Yale School of Fine Arts when he was twenty-four and moved to New York City. During the 1950s and '60s, he painted, made experimental films, and traveled widely, designing covers for Time magazine. His detailed, dreamlike images show surreal landscapes and are often painted from unusual viewpoints, as if we are looking in on a different world. But Vickrey denied there is any narrative in his paintings, saying that "the one thing that never comes first is the story. People are always asking me if there is a story behind my painting and there almost never is." (Eliasoph, Robert Vickrey: Lyrical Realist, 1982)