Albert Pinkham Ryder's Two Wagnerian Paintings: The Flying Dutchman and Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens

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1988

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Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) has traditionally been regarded as an anomalous figure in the history of art. A small, but growing, body of scholarship has recently been devoted to correcting this view of the artist and to establishing his relationship to the aesthetic currents of his time. This study explores the influence on his art of Ryder's environment, late nineteenth-century New York. Two of Ryder's paintings, each based on an incident in an opera by Richard Wagner, are examined: Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens, drawn from Gotterdammerung; and The Flying Dutchman, inspired by Der fliegende Hollander. The history of opera in nineteenthcentury New York helps to explain how an American painter came to be influenced by such distinctly German operatic themes. German immigration patterns are linked with changes in operatic taste, and the interest of native intellectuals in Wagner's music and ideas is discussed. Wagnerian staging tradition is posited as a source for the compositions of both Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens and The Flying Dutchman. It is demonstrated that the set designed by Josef Hoffmann for the original Bayreuth production of Gotterdammerung, Act III, Scene I, served as the specific compositional basis for Ryder's Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens.

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