Yield Brother Virgil belongs to a series of paintings that Indiana began in 1963. The first work in this series, Yield Brother, was painted expressly for a 1963 benefit exhibition held by the Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation. This was followed by three larger diamond shaped Yield Brother paintings, as well as a number of smaller canvases, such as this one, dedicated to friends.
These symbolic portraits of friends are based on a single, fixed composition, a vertical band within a circle inscribed with the motto “Yield Brother,” and the friend’s name at the bottom of the canvas. The vertical bar inside the circle references both the cartographic plans of the Manhattan wharves found in Indiana’s The Melville Triptych (1962), and the central element of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s (peace) symbol, the D (for disarmament) based on the letters of the semaphore system.
Indiana painted this work for the composer Virgil Thomson, whom he met in 1964. In 1966 the two exchanged portraits, Indiana giving Thomson this painting, and Thomson composing the piano score Edges: A Portrait of Robert Indiana. In 1966 Indiana also accepted a commission to design the sets and costumes of Thomson’s opera The Mother of Us All for a performance at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.