Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting “Flying Dutchman,” completed in 1887, depicts the story of a Dutch sea captain who swore on a relic of the true cross that no storm could defeat him, even if he sailed until Judgment Day. Inspired by this mythological tale, Ryder created a dream-like seascape using broad and stylized shapes that characterize his unique style. The painting features large waves and ominous clouds surrounding the ghost ship.
Ryder’s approach to art emphasizes poetic imagination rather than strict realism, as can be seen in this particular work that includes a poem with the canvas when it was exhibited at a museum. This Romantic impulse is evident in Ryder’s poetry and features heavily throughout most of his works.
This iconic painting is now part of various significant exhibitions at different museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Besides Flying Dutchman, several other paintings inspired by mythical tales have made Ryders’ work iconic in American art history. Furthermore, while Ryder came from humble beginnings as an apprentice wood engraver, he developed into one of America’s most successful artists during his lifetime due to his unique artistic vision and masterful technique.