Pinkham Ryder was a self taught American artist. Albert Pinkham Ryder
was best known for his poetic and moody allegorical works and seascapes,
as well as his eccentric personality. While his art shared an emphasis
on subtle variations of color with tonalist works of the time, it was
unique for accentuating form in a way that some art historians regard as
Albert Pinkham Ryder was an erratic painter, and his reputation rests on perhaps a dozen works, most of which are his famous "marines", dark, concentrated images of boats, the fishing smacks of his New England youth, pitted against wind and wave under the centered, tide dragging eye of the moon.
Images like "Moonlight Marine" (shown here) are diminutive in size but large in scale. They concentrate the Romantic terrors of seascape; in them Ryder showed that he was the Samuel Palmer of Ishmael's "watery part of the world." Thick darkness and eerie light turn in the sky; the turgid sea heaves, scattered with moon flakes and endowed with a Courbet-like solidity by Ryder's constant over painting.
Albert Pinkham Ryder was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts as the youngest of four sons. New Bedford, a bustling whaling port during the 19th century, had an intimate connection with the sea that probably supplied artistic inspiration for Ryder later in life. Little is known of his childhood. The Ryder family moved to New York City in 1867 or 1868 to join Ryder's elder brother who had opened a successful restaurant. His brother also opened The Hotel Albert in 1902, which became a Greenwich Village landmark. It was named for Ryder, and was where he lived and painted for many years.
Albert Pinkham Ryder's earliest formal art training was with the noted portrait painter and engraver William Marshall, and between 1871 and 1875, he attended classes at the National Academy of Design. During the 1870s, Albert Pinkham Ryder moved in an orbit that included John La Farge, J. Alden Weir, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Stanford White, nurturing his deep love of literature and art.
In 1878, Albert Pinkham Ryder was included in the list of founding members of the Society of American Artists, established in protest against the restrictive policies of the National Academy of Design, though in 1906 he was admitted as a member.
Though Albert Pinkham Ryder was never viewed himself as a modernist, a succession of American artists from Marsden Hartley to Jackson Pollock and beyond would look up to him as an emblem of esthetic purity, a holy sage, and the native prophet who linked tradition to modernism. Throughout his career, Albert Pinkham Ryder maintained an interest in subjects derived from literature, poetry, and legend, especially themes of redemption and salvation, and of women in distress. His painting "The Flying Dutchman", shown here, is a great example.
Albert Pinkham Ryder used his materials liberally and without care. His paintings, which he often worked on for ten years or more, were built up of layers of paint and varnish applied on top of each other. Albert Pinkham Ryder would often paint into wet varnish, or apply a layer of fast-drying paint over a layer of slow-drying paint. The result is that paintings by Ryder remain unstable and become much darker over time; they crack readily, do not fully dry even after decades, and sometimes completely disintegrate. Because of this, and because some Ryder paintings were completed or reworked by others after his death, many Ryder paintings appear very different today than they did when first created.
After 1900, around the time of his father's death, Ryder's creativity fell dramatically. For the rest of his life he spent his artistic energy on occasionally re-working existing paintings, some of which lay scattered about his New York apartment. Visitors to Ryder's home were struck by his slovenly habits. Albert Pinkham Ryder never cleaned, and his floor was covered with trash, plates with old food, and a thick layer of dust, and he would have to clear space for visitors to stand or sit. Albert Pinkham Ryder was shy and did not seek the company of others, but received company courteously and enjoyed telling stories or talking about his art. Ryder gained a reputation as a loner, but he maintained social contacts, enjoyed writing letters, and continued to travel on occasion to visit friends.
While Ryder's creativity fell after the turn of the century, his fame grew. Important collectors of American art sought Albert Pinkham Ryder paintings for their holdings and often lent choice examples for national art exhibitions, as Ryder himself had lost interest in actively exhibiting his work. In 1913, ten of Albert Pinkham Ryder's paintings were shown together in the historic Armory Show, an honor reflecting the admiration felt towards Ryder by modernist artists of the time.