Moonlight Marine
by Albert Pinkham Ryder
Ryder_MoonlightMarine-MMA-ART411925
Albert Pinkham Ryder (American, 1847-1917), Moonlight Marine, 1870-90. Oil and possibly wax on wood panel, 11 1/2 x 12 in. (29.2 x 30.5 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1934 (34.55)

Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917)
Moonlight Marine, 1870-90
Oil and possibly wax on wood panel, 11 ½   x 12 inches (29.2 x 30.5 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1934

The “reclusive visionary”
Though touted as one of the “discoveries” of the Armory Show, Albert Pinkham Ryder was a well known painter in New York artistic circles by 1913. [1] In fact, articles about the “reclusive visionary” had been published in the New York press as early as the mid-1870s. [2]

At the Armory Show
Ryder was well represented at the Armory with ten paintings. His work was displayed in the same room as examples by then-deceased Americans James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Theodore Robinson, and John Henry Twachtman. [3] The display was intended to demonstrate pre-modernist tendencies in the United States and visually narrate a native art historical lineage, positioning Ryder as an “Old Master” to whom younger American artists could look for inspiration. [4]

The subject
Moonlight Marine represents some of Ryder’s most iconic imagery. A two-masted sailboat, now barely visible, perches atop dark, swirling waves, with multiple cloud masses glowing in the moonlit sky above. The palette is somber, focused mainly on tones of blue-green and white. While Ryder chose to flatten the elements of the painting into two-dimensional shapes, the canvas itself undulates with waves of layered paint and wax. [5]

The inspiration
Though Ryder claimed that such images derived solely from his imagination, his friends observed him taking midnight strolls to get the moonlight effects. Ryder lived in New York City for his entire artistic career but he chose to depict the opposite of the rapidly urbanizing world around him in these paintings—cows on grassy fields and quiet visions of the sea under the light of the moon.

The response
Ryder’s works were well received by critics of the Armory Show. One, referring to the artist as “Old Man Ryder,” praised the “quality of his work” and noted that “he is much nearer to the modern expression of intellectualized emotion than all but a few of the young men” in the exhibition. [6]

[1] Milton Brown, The Story of the Armory Show, 2nd ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988), 98. Ryder had shown at New York venues such as the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Union League Club during the 1880s and 1890s. The network of patronage and Ryder’s role in artistic circles at this time has also been analyzed by Saul Zalesch, “Ryder Among the Writers: Friendship and Patronage in the New York Art World, 1875-1884,” Ph.D. diss, University of Delaware, 1992.

[2] Roger. E. Fry, “The Art of Albert P. Ryder.” Burlington Magazine 13 (April 1908): 55, 59, 62-64. See also Sadakichi Hartmann, “A Visit to Albert Pinkham Ryder,” ArtNews 1 (March 1897): 1-3.

[3] Brown, 116. Ryder was still alive, but he had generally stopped producing new work after 1900.

[4] Arthur B. Davies, a key organizer of the exhibition, was a friend and champion of the artist. Contemporary observers described Davies delightedly leading Ryder through the exhibition in New York. Elizabeth Broun, Albert Pinkham Ryder, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1989), 4.

[5] Unfortunately, Ryder often created his paintings without regard for technical precision and permanence, so that some have darkened considerably over time, losing much of the original nuance in tone and color that attracted early admirers. See conservation report notes included in object file for Moonlight Marine, Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 34.55.

[6] Charles H. Caffin, “International Still Stirs the Public,” New York American, March 10, 1913, 8.

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