Artist Who Created Paint-by-Numbers Pictures Dies

Dan Robbins was inspired by da Vinci
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 5, 2019 1:11 AM CDT
This image provided by Larry Robbins shows a numbered outline of a self portrait of Dan Robbins.   (Courtesy of Larry Robbins via AP)

(Newser) – The artist who created the first paint-by-numbers pictures and helped turn the kits into an American sensation during the 1950s has died. Dan Robbins, whose works were dismissed by some critics but later celebrated by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, died Monday in Sylvania, Ohio, says his son, Larry Robbins. He was 93. He had been in good health until a series of falls in recent months, his son says. Robbins was working as a package designer for the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit when he came up with the idea for paint-by-numbers in the late 1940s, the AP reports. He said his inspiration came from Leonardo da Vinci.

"I remembered hearing that Leonardo used numbered background patterns for his students and apprentices, and I decided to try something like that," Robbins said in 2004. He showed his first attempt—an abstract still life—to his boss, Max Klein, who promptly told Robbins he hated it. But Klein saw potential with the overall concept and told Robbins to come up with something people would want to paint. The first versions were of landscapes, and then he branched out to horses, puppies, and kittens. Sales peaked at 20 million in 1955. The slices of Americana Robbins created are still found framed in homes across the nation. "We like to think dad was one of the most exhibited artists in the world," says Larry Robbins. "He enjoyed hearing from everyday people. He had a whole box of fan letters." (Read more artist stories.)

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