An outdoors enthusiast and ardent conservationist, Aiden Lassell Ripley adapted his early painting style and subject matter to suit his personal passion and, in so doing, became one the of the masters of sporting art in America. Born to a musical family in Wakefield, Massachusetts, Ripley exhibited an early talent for the tuba and piano. Around the age of 8, his creativity grew to encompass painting and drawing. As a teenager, he attended classes at the Fenway School of Illustration, a course of study interrupted by the onset of World War I. Military service in the Army took Ripley to France, where he saw heavy combat in key battles. Soon afterwards, he picked up his instrument again and spent the rest of his enlistment as a tuba player in General Pershing’s band, a position that kept him in Europe until 1919.
Upon his return to the United States, Ripley resumed his art education at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, receiving classical instruction and earning a reputation as a strong technician and skillful portraitist. He studied under Frank Benson and Philip Hale, artists whose loose impressionistic styles and plein air techniques Ripley gradually adopted. He was awarded the Paige Traveling Fellowship, an honor that funded a year’s study in North Africa and Europe. In 1926, Ripley’s first solo exhibition featured watercolor cityscapes and landscapes from those travels, and in 1928, the young artist received the Logan Purchase Prize at the International Watercolor Society’s annual competition. Around this same time, Ripley began to pursue hunting scenes and game birds as subject matter, paintings that soon attracted commissions from sporting magazines and book publishers.
Like most artists, Ripley found fewer buyers for his art during the Great Depression. He turned to illustration work and supplemented his income by teaching drawing at the Harvard School of Architecture. As part of the government-funded WPA initiative, Ripley executed murals for a Boston-area public library and post office. In 1930, the Guild of Boston Artists (which Ripley would later serve as president) sponsored an exhibit focused on sporting art. In spite of the economic downturn, the exhibition was quite successful and eventually led to Ripley’s profitable partnership with the Sporting Gallery and Bookshop in New York. In 1942, his drypoint illustration of an American widgeon was selected as the Federal Duck Stamp.
As Ripley’s national reputation grew, so did the number of commissions he received, especially those from wealthy sportsmen. Ripley’s particular skill in depicting waterfowl and upland birds took him to New England during the summer and fall before traveling to the South during the winter months. In South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, he recorded traditional sporting activity, often with near photographic precision, on private plantations, while using his down time to paint local genre scenes.
In 1954, Ripley became a member of the prestigious National Academy of Design, a rare honor for a sporting artist. His work was widely exhibited and often earned important prizes. During the last decade of his life, Ripley created a series of history paintings depicting Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere. Today, Ripley’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, High Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.