“The Flying Dutchman” by Albert Pinkham Ryder
“Imitation is not inspiration, and inspiration only can give birth to a work of art. The least of a man’s original emanation is better than the best of a borrowed thought.”
-Albert Pinkham Ryder
A homegrown American visionary, Albert Pinkham Ryder was active mostly during the late 1800s in New York City. On his origins as an artist, Ryder wrote, ‘When my father placed the box of colors and brushes in my hands and I stood before my easel with its square of stretched canvas, I realized that I had in my possession the wherewith to create a masterpiece that would live throughout the coming ages. The great masters had no more!'”
By the 1880s Ryder had arrived at his mature style, moody and luminous depictions of literary, religious and maritime scenes. At the time of their creation they were described as glowing, jewel-like works. Unfortunately Ryder’s eccentric nature extended into his painting techniques; he was reputed to have had a wildly careless and experimental methodology, using materials like bacon grease and kerosene as painting mediums in his creative frenzy, or putting sealing layers of varnish over wet paint, and then painting on top of the varnish. The result is many of his paintings have darkened, cracked, or even disintegrated entirely. What we see now is still beautiful, but it can only suggest the atmosphere the works must have originally had. I was fortunate to grow up outside of Washington DC, where the Smithsonian Institute has several of Ryder’s most significant remaining works on display.
Ryder didn’t do much new work after 1900, but his reputation grew. He lived long enough to see his work highlighted in historic 1913 Armory Show, the exhibit credited with really introducing modern art to the United States. Ryder’s individualistic approach, his simplified and stylized forms, were precursors of directions art would take in the 20th century. As Ryder himself noted, “No two visions are alike. Those who reach the heights have all toiled up the steep mountains by a different route. To each has been revealed a different panorama.”
Albert Pinkham Ryder “Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens”