ARTISTS: Albert Pinkham Ryder



“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”  

9 thoughts on “ARTISTS: Albert Pinkham Ryder

  1. Never saw his work or if I did, I’ve forgotten. I relate to how he captured light and amused about his use of strange media, like bacon grease. Sounds like he had great bursts of inspiration and tried to match media to his visions. Great read Richard.

  2. I read about someone describing Ryder’s work when it was new. The man said at first he thought it was the darkest painting he had ever seen, But the longer he looked at it, the more he realized it was the lightest painting he had ever seen. That amazing inner glow is something I knew you’d appreciate Larry!

  3. As soon as I clicked on this, and see you’ve featured Ryder here, my heart welled up and joyful tears came to my eyes. His work is so beautiful and pure, so richly naive in the best of all possible senses. What’s great about him isn’t only the work itself, but the vision he had in his mind, the genuine inspiration he labored under, strove to translate into paint with passionate devotion, the poetic feeling for land and sea and sky which he carried within himself. Ryder lived in his paintings. I adore this artist and have spent many lonely hours pouring over reproductions of his paintings. The best artists one can return to again and again for nourishment. Indeed, one gets lost in the wastes of much of contemporary art, like finding oneself in a junkyard, and comes across a work by Ryder as if a flower has sprung up amidst the garbage, delicate, exotic, strange, but Alive and with Soul in it.

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