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The Barnyard

On view

The Barnyard

Artist: Albert Pinkham Ryder (American, 1847 - 1917)

Date: 1873-1876
Medium: Oil on wood
Dimensions:
Overall: 11 1/2 x 12 1/4in. (29.2 x 31.1cm)
Framed: 18 1/4 x 19 x 1 1/2in. (46.4 x 48.3cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 57.39
Text Entries

The Barnyard by Albert Pinkham Ryder is an excellent example of the artist’s early work. One of America’s most distinguished painters, Ryder began painting in the tradition of the Barbizon School, following the methods of pastoral painting practiced in France by Corot, Rousseau, and Daubigny. Ryder’s panel is much indebted to this tradition in its humble, rural subject matter, complete with thatched cottage, horse and wagon, and roosters in the foreground. The luminous, dark tonalities are reminiscent of the Barbizon tradition as well, with its subdued warm tones of browns and ochers. Recent studies, such as that of Peter Bermingham,(1) have shown that the Barbizon idiom was prevalent in America in the later nineteenth century; and from our vantage point in history, we can see that Ryder’s work of the 1870s belongs squarely in that tradition.

There are those who would claim that Ryder was a self-taught genius, oblivious to the major traditions of European art. It pleased certain critics of the 1920s and 1930s to make a case for the home-grown American prodigy; and for some, Ryder fit this mold—or could easily be forced into it. However, recent thinking on this subject takes another view, seeing Ryder as part of an international cosmopolitan tradition, albeit somewhat delayed, in its expression in the United States.

In The Barnyard, Ryder turned the Barbizon manner to his own purposes. The work is characteristic of Ryder on a number of counts. For one thing, he simplified his pictorial language into essential planes and masses, eliminating much of the clutter and sentimental trappings so often found in the work of the French Barbizon painters. Moreover, Ryder indulged in that characteristically American practice of flattening his images so that his painting operates as a two-dimensional pattern as much as it does three-dimensionally. Particularly noticeable in this work is Ryder’s tendency to treat tangible forms and their “background” as equal pictorial Weights, balancing one another in an overall compositional pattern. Ryder was to develop and perfect these characteristic traits in subsequent paintings of the 1880s and 1890s, when his compositions were masterfully balanced as two-dimensional entities.

Shortly before Ryder’s death in 1917, and for several decades afterward, forgeries of the artist’s work frequently appeared on the market, and today museums are still plagued by troublesome works, allegedly by him. The Barnyard, however, has an unimpeachable history, something that is always a pleasure to see in the case of Ryder paintings. Records of the work stretch back at least to 1915, the year it was sold at auction from the collection of Ichabod T. Williams of New York.(2) The painting was described fully in the American Art Association catalog, with the note that it was acquired by Williams from the late Daniel Cottier. This history offers an extra measure of security, as Cottier was Ryder’s friend and dealer, and any painting from his collection is one that we would expect to be genuine. M. Knoedler was the high bidder, paying fourteen hundred dollars for the work, a respectable price in that era. The Barnyard eventually found its way, in 1919, to Duncan Phillips, who bought it for his gallery in Washington. The painting achieved notoriety when it was stolen on its way from Washington to an exhibition at the Century Club, New York. It was hidden from sight until its recovery in 1926. Subsequently, Phillips exchanged this work and another Ryder for Macbeth and the Witches (Phillips Collection). Then The Barnyard was purchased by Dr. C.J. Robertson, who later sold it to a New York dealer, from whom it was acquired in 1957 by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

 

 Notes

1. Peter Bermingham, American Art in the Barbizan Mood, exhibition catalog (Washington, D.C.: National Collection of Fine Arts, 1975).

2. The results of the Ichabod T. Williams sale were reported in the New York Times, February 4, 1915, p. 9; February 5, 1915, p.11.

 

 

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