Albert Pinkham Ryder was a romantic painter whose themes of humanity in the grip of irresistible supernatural forces, expressed in powerful formal designs, had lasting influence on subsequent generations of American artists. Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Ryder’s brief education ended with grammar school. Sometime between 1867 and 1868, he moved with his family to New York, where his artistic training began under William E. Marshall, a former student of the French painter Thomas Couture. He continued his studies at the National Academy of Design from 1870 to 1875. Ryder exhibited at the Society of American Artists, where he was elected a member in 1877.
Ryder’s early style, characterized by an appealing naturalism of bright, smoothly finished pastoral or animal themes, later gave way to increasingly somber moods expressed in both color and style. The romantic myth of Ryder as mystic loner arises largely from his later years. Ryder’s vital social life as a young man included a close friendship with J. Alden Weir and frequent gatherings with a coterie of friends, among whom were his dealers, Daniel Cottier and James Inglis. In 1882 Cottier and Inglis guided Ryder on his first of three trips to Europe, where he absorbed much from the Old Masters and contemporary art, including work by Corot, the Barbizon painters, and Monticelli.
Ryder’s work of the 1890s, considered the culmination of his career, includes haunting marine scenes as well as turbulent images from opera and literature, including the Bible. From 1900 until his death the artist produced little, working and reworking his paintings and using eccentric techniques that often resulted in works that today are badly deteriorated.
Elected to the National Academy of Design in 1906, and two years later to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Ryder was well represented and lauded at the 1913 Armory Show. By this time, however, he was suffering from increasingly poor health and failing vision; he died four years later, in 1917.