A prolific artist in many media—oil, watercolor, etching, and lithography—Chauncey Ryder grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and demonstrated a precocious interest in art. He attended high school for only two years before leaving in 1891 for Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute and at J. Francis Smith’s Academy. It was not until 1901 that he was able to travel abroad for more advanced instruction. As an art student in Paris, Ryder followed in the footsteps of countless Americans at the popular Académie Julian, where conservative tastes prevailed. Ryder also studied privately with Raphaël Collin and spent time in the atelier of Max Bohm, an expatriate American who led an art colony in Étaples on the north coast of France. Ryder’s French ouevre was decidedly academic and figurative, which explains its inclusion at the Paris Salon four times between 1903 and 1906. That last year, his submission was That Which the Sea Gives Up, for which he won a medal.
When Ryder returned to this country, he settled in New York City, but set out for more picturesque places during the summer. He was in Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1910 and 1911, and participated fully in the art colony centered around Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse. By this time, he was a dedicated landscapist, often labeled a Tonalist because of his atmospheric effects. One contemporary critic praised his expansive aesthetic by noting that “Ryder paints with a freedom and a facility which is not deterred by quibbling details. He is always lyrical and poetic in his approach, and often achieved a certain luminous quality . . . transforming a whole scene into something of other-worldly loveliness.”
Ryder regularly exhibited at the prestigious Macbeth Gallery, an indication of his increasing success. He showed both oils and watercolors at the National Academy of Design every year between 1907 and his death in 1949, sometimes twice a year. In 1913, he was made an associate before being elected a full academician in 1920. In 1915, a painting by Ryder was awarded a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. He exhibited his Whistleresque etchings with the Chicago Society of Etchers and the American Society of Etchers, and was a member of exclusive New York art organizations, including the Salmagundi Club and National Arts Club. It is estimated that Ryder produced over one thousand works over the course of his career; as a result, he is represented in the permanent collections of major museums across the country, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the New Mexico Museum of Art and San Diego Museum of Art.
Mountains were Ryder’s passion, and his purchase of property in Wilton, New Hampshire, provided him with stupendous views of Mount Monadnock, a site well known for its bare rock surface. He pursued other rugged scenery in New England and seems to have headed south about 1920 to explore the mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. Because he tended to generalize details, it is difficult to pinpoint the precise locations represented in his paintings. Indicative of his lack of concern for specificity, he once said: “I paint by feeling.”