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Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917)
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National Gallery


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National Museum of American Art

Ryder began drawing when he was four years old. His education did not continue long because of poor eyesight.

He learned painting from local amateurs. But he was not satisfied with the results: "In my desire to be accurate I became lost in a maze of detail. Try as I would, my colors were not those of nature. My leaves were infinitely below the standard of a leaf, my finest strokes were coarse and crude."

This changed one day when he was walking. "The old scene presented itself one day before my eyes framed in an opening between two trees. It stood out like a painted canvas - the deep blue of a midday sky - a solitary tree, brilliant with the green of early summer, a foundation of brown earth and gnarled roots. There was no detail to vex the eye. Three solid masses of form and color - sky, foliage and earth - the whole bathed in an atmosphere of golden luminosity. I threw my brushes aside; they were too small for the work in hand. I squeezed out big chunks of pure moist color and taking my palette knife, I laid on blue, green, white and brown in great sweeping strokes. As I worked I saw that it was good and clean and strong. I saw nature springing into life upon my dead canvas. It was better than nature, for it was vibrating with the thrill of a new creation. Exultantly I painted until the sun sank below the horizon, then raced around the fields like a colt let loose, and literally bellowed for joy."

He lived the life of a recluse in a small studio. He was always happy to see friends but had no desire to meet anyone new. He wrote poetry and took long walks. He had no interest in material things, comfort or money. His studio contained empty cereal packages piled to the ceiling, a richly carved wedding chest, a Greek head standing on a board with a foot bath on one side and a box of hay on the other.

Sometimes he worked for 48 hours without sleep or food (Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens). He was careless about his technique and used layers of oil and quick-drying varnish. He would repaint a picture several times. One woman was forced to wait 20 years for a picture because of his constant repainting. He was one of the few artists to have to restore his own work.

key2.gif (90 bytes)   Because of his eyes, he couldn't be a driver.  He had to be a Ryder.