Al Hirschfeld started out as a student of painting, drawing and sculpture at the Art Students League in New York. Most of his twenties he spent in Paris, painting and making prints. On his return to the States he stayed in Bali. He noticed that the sun there was so bright, it reduced all figures to line drawings to his eye. This is how he picked up his characteristic flowing line style. In the mid-twenties - almost by accident, as he tells it - he began drawing for newspapers and particularly his weekly panel in The New York Times. He illustrated the film and theater section, capturing the mood of the show and the characters of the actors in his own accessible style, which is somewhere between that of a cartoonist and a caricaturist, the artist himself preferring the word "characterist". Many actors considered it a great honor to be portrayed by Al Hirschfeld, who was still drawing for the New York Times a month before his death. Almost 100 years old, he died in his sleep on January 20, 2003.
He once remarked: "When you live long enough, everything happens." Al Hirschfeld remains in the minds of many, and especially New Yorkers, as a legendary landmark of the Big Apple.
Hirschfeld's work was exhibited all over the world, and over the last two decades, he has received numerous awards. Since 1951, Hirschfeld has been publishing numerous books, among them 'Show Business is No Business', 'Hirschfeld's World', and 'Hirschfeld by Hirschfeld'. In September 1996 'The Line King', a documentary on his life and works, was released, as well as the CD-ROM 'Hirschfeld: The Great Entertainer'. Al Hirschfeld was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2002.