The Long Trail, Chauncy Foster Ryder, 1934
A largely forgotten master landscape painter created this large oil on display at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH in 1934.
You won't find Chauncy Foster Ryder in any of the standard art history books. But thanks to the Web's incredible ability to share information, you can acquaint yourself completely with him here.
Bear Creek, Chauncy Foster Ryder, undated
Ryder's style corresponds to that of other pre-WWII, post-Impressionist landscape painters of New England who are better known, but still relatively obscure, such as John Enneking, Charles Hawthorne, and John F. Carlson. As one writer saw it in 1978, Ryder painted with intuitive feeling in pursuit of "the poetic aspect of nature."
A close look at the brushwork on The Long Trail reveals the semi-abstract, exaggerated impressionism of this style. Their paint handling brought a renewing approach to the landscape tradition t a time when modernist abstraction dominated painting, and representations of nature seemed predictable and passe.
Detail, The Long Trail
As the curator of one of his current fans, Child's Gallery points out, Chauncy drew favor for "the way his landscapes engaged the aesthetic of the abstract without presenting abstract subject matter, in a time when the general public was unsure about how to approach truly abstract art."
I'd call the paint handling gestural rather than impressionistic.
Chauncy himself seems to have lived a life devoted to his art, encouraged by a supportive wife who was willing to sell everything they owned and move to Europe so he could train in France. Below is his academy painting. Depicting wary onlookers eyeing the detritus of a shipwreck, it shows that he had no problem adapting his style and subject matter to the prevailing tastes of the day.
Chauncy F. Ryder, What the Sea Gives Up, Paris Salon of 1907
And here is a visual analysis of the composition of the Currier painting that reveals some of why it works so well. In addition to the careful design, which creates a vigorous rhythm of criss-crossing vertical and horizontal lines, the center of the painting draws attention as the warmest region (in terms of warm and cool color) within an interesting alteration of warm and cool colors.
Compositional geometry of The Long Trail
The status and interpretations of Ryder's work raises a couple questions for me. What does it mean that Ryder's work was forgotten (or almost) in favor of the more experimental, perhaps more adventurous and "progressive" of the modernists and abstract expressionists of his time? Is characterizing his approach as "poetic" an apology for his lack of innovation? Was he just not "going far enough" when he put one foot in the abstract expressionist camp but stuck to "safe" familiar and appealing subjects when the general public was "unsure about how to approach truly abstract art?" Can the "poetic" quality be separated from the quasi-abstraction to legitimate his paintings in their own right? Any thoughts?