Albert Pinkham Ryder
Moonlit Cove, early to mid-1880s
Oil on canvas
14 ½ x 17 1/8 in.
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The subject
The theme of Moonlit Cove is imaginatively romantic, combining faithful representation of natural forms with an emphasis on the nocturnal effects of light. The simplicity of the composition suggests a random depiction of a scene found in nature, while the halo of the moon combined with the long cloud illuminating the cliff suggest a spiritual presence and the boat—now almost completely obscured due to the painting’s age and condition—suggests a human presence.

The style
Moonlit Cove dates to around the mid-point in Ryder’s career. It retains the simple and bold massing of form typical of his work of the 1870s and early 1880s, while also looking forward to the dramatic abstractions of his works from the 1890s and later.

The painting’s growing reputation
The painting was illustrated in Scribner’s Magazine in 1911 with an appreciation by Walter Pach, who focused on the “masterly simplicity” of the composition, whose “few and elementary forms are disposed with rare perception of their most effective and just relations.” [1]

To the Armory Show
This was one of three canvases by Ryder that were lent to the exhibition by the American collector Alexander Morten.[2] Ryder’s work was hung in the gallery devoted to a historical survey of French and American art, underlining his role as a predecessor of contemporary art and helping to establish him as an icon for the American modernists. By 1916 the critic and collector Duncan Phillips referred to this painting as “one of the world’s most romantic pictures—high tide and the glare of the moon. Something is soon to happen in this black corer of the coast. We know this.” [3]

[1] Walter Pach, “On Albert P. Ryder,” Scribner’s Magazine 49 (January 1911), 127.

[2] Morten also lent works by the French painters Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, and Edgar Degas, and by the American Impressionist Theodore Robinson.

[3] Duncan Phillips, “Albert Ryder,” The American Magazine of Art 7 (August 1916), 391.

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