Art: America's Saintly Sage

A look at Albert Pinkham Ryder's myth -- and its limits

In the end, it is artists who make other artists famous. A striking case in point, in America, was Albert Pinkham Ryder. This somewhat reclusive visionary was born in 1847; grew up in the whaling town of New Bedford, Mass.; studied in New York City; spent most of his working life there and died in 1917. As far as is known, he painted fewer than 200 works. Yet a succession of American artists has looked up to him as a sage, a holy man: the native prophet who linked tradition to modernism.

The young independents who organized the epochal Armory Show...

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