Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chauncy Ryder: "the poetic aspect of nature"

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?


  1. What are your thoughts on the subject? I am not that familar with the art world at that time. But maybe fame has something to do with who you know, being in the right place at the right time. You don't say how popular he was at the time. Did he earn a good living at his art or were the pot boilers perhaps the sacrifice he had to make in order to pay the bills. The 'When the sea gives up' is very different in style to his 'poetic' landscape. It is interesting to think of all the hundreds of artists living at that time who could have been as good as the top painters yet somehow didn't make it to fame. Maybe Ryder's wife influenced his work too, if she supported him maybe it had conditions those being pot boilers perhaps. By saying pot boilers I simply mean the paintings that pay the bills I am not being disrespectful to this great talent.

  2. It has a lot to do with who you know, right place right time, etc. Ryder seems to have had a thriving career as a professional painter and I'm betting they lived a happy and creative life. His chosen mode of expression appealed to plenty of buyers, but it was out of step with the more progressive art world of his day. One could say the same about a landscape painter today - the art world is more interested in conceptual installations (to name just one current trend) than in representational painting.

    The painting I saw at the Currier was donated by his wife after his death, so there's an example right there of how having someone else advocate for your work, even if it's your family members, can make all the difference between obscurity and your art's ability to go on casting influence and interest after you die.

    I've been researching the life and work of a forgotten 19th century woman painter from Maine named Maria A'Becket. I'm certain the reason she's unknown is that she died unmarried, without heirs or family members to champion her work.

  3. You are right that the support of the family is very important indeed. Great to hear you are searching for the forgotten painters, they each have a story, I wonder what Maria's story was. Hope to hear more in a later post Christopher.

  4. Thank you for this article about Chauncey Ryder- really interesting. I love his work and have struggled to find any books or info about him. I'd love to see one of his paintings in person but I don't think any of his work is in UK /European public collections?