• Ben Samuel

Albert Pinkham Ryder - art and decay

“Imitation is not inspiration, and inspiration only can give birth to a work of art. The least of man's original emanation is better than the best of borrowed thought.” ― Albert Pinkham Ryder

The Dead Bird (1890 - 1900)


Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847 – 1917) used unstable materials in his work, layering paint, resin, and varnish and materials such as candle wax, bitumen, and non-drying oils. He would work on a painting for 10 years or more using a wet-on-wet technique. His work deteriorated over time and sometimes completely disintegrated. Due to his use of unstable and uncommon materials, when first painted his paintings would have an unusual luminosity that would fade over time.


Here is a small selection of his paintings each of which show the fissures and cracks of decay.


The Waste of Waters is Their Field (early 1880s)


Seacoast in Moonlight (1890)


In the Stable (early to mid 1870s)


With Sloping Mast and Dipping Prow (late 1880s)


Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens (1888–1891)


Ryder would rework his paintings in an attempt to restore them and many remain soft even today. Others have also restored his paintings so that they appear very different today as when first painted.


“The artist should fear to become the slave of detail. He should strive to express his thought and not the surface of it. What avails a storm cloud accurate in form and colour if the storm is not therein?” ― Albert Pinkham Ryder

Curfew Hour (1882)


“I like my slow dreamy way with a picture, fancying thereby they have a charm peculiar or like self creation.” ― Albert Pinkham Ryder

Jonah (ca. 1885 - 1895)


Ryder described his own epiphany in his 1905 treatise titled “Paragraphs from the Studio of a Recluse”.


"Three solid masses of form and colour—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 colour 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 to 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 I raced around the fields like a colt let loose, and literally bellowed for joy."― Albert Pinkham Ryder

Landscape (1897 – 1898?)


Constance (mid 1880s to mid 1890s)


Albert Pinkham Ryder photographed in 1905 by Alice Boughton

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