Book Review: Anne Ryan: Collages

Anne Ryan book cover.jpg

Anne Ryan: Collages. Marlborough Gallery, Inc. New York, New York.

Anne Ryan: Collages represents a solo exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, NY from November 16 to December 4, 1974. The slim catalogue opens with a photograph of Ryan looking at one of her collages. It provides readers with a short biography, lists of solo and group exhibitions, and galleries which own her work as part of their collections. The rest of the booklet is devoted to her collages, some in black and white, some in color, and provide a sampling of the textural quality of her work, her subtle use of color, and her mastery of line and geometric shapes. I was happy to have come across her work and this booklet, but I wanted more.

No. 426 (1952) by Anne Ryan

No. 426 (1952) by Anne Ryan

Anne Ryan (1889-1954) was an American poet and artist who was best known for her work in collage. What makes her appealing to me, besides her amazing achievement of completing over 400 collages in a span of just six years, was that she didn't start painting until the age of 49. It wasn't until she saw the works of Kurt Schwitters, some nine years later, that she became enthralled with collage.

Her first oil paintings were, reportedly, primitive landscapes and portraits. After some experimentation with printmaking, using a white-line woodcut associated with the works of BJO Nordfeldt and Blanche Lazzell, Ryan turned to collage, using found objects: foil, book pages, linen, gauze, tulle, handmade rage paper, and other recycled materials. One critic wrote: "...she needed no more than the contents of her sewing basket to stitch up the collages that delight the eye and penetrate, on a tiny scale, the mysteries of pictorial design." (Stuart, 1955).

Left: No. 530 (1951) by Anne Ryan; Right: No. 329 (1950) and No. 264 (1950) by Anne Ryan

Left: No. 530 (1951) by Anne Ryan; Right: No. 329 (1950) and No. 264 (1950) by Anne Ryan

Ryan worked on relatively small canvases, something which her contemporaries urged her to abandon for much larger canvases, but it's the intimacy of her pieces that brought viewers closer to her work. Her collages are abstract with a soft and subtle color palette and, as another critic wrote "had an air of a private communication, of something confided with affection and delicacy."  (Kramer, 1968).

Some of Ryan's influences include: Tony Smith, Hans Hofmann, Kurt Schwitters, Barney Newman, Fritz Bultman, and Stanley W. Hayter.

Here are some resources to learn more about her work:

Newspaper Articles

Anonymous. Anne Ryan Dead: Abstract Artist: Known for Collages, Oils and Woodblock Prints - Wrote Poetry and Short Stories. Special to the New York Times. April 18, 1954. p. 89.

Halasz, Piri. A Trenton Exhibit Celebrates the Wonders of Collage: Born in Hoboken Finds Own Style. Special to the New York Times. New York, New York. November 17, 1974. p. 121.

Kimmelman, Michael. Art in Review. New York Times. Late Final Edition. November 29, 1991. Section C; page 28; column 3.

Kramer, Hilton. Critic's notebook: Anne Ryan's art leaves shadows of obscurity. New York Times. January 21, 1980. p. C15.

Naves, Mario. Anne Ryan: The belle of the NY School. The New York Observer. January 28, 2002. p. 14.

Preston, Stuart. Artists of Personal Vision. New York Times. April 10, 1955. p. x11.


Rayner, Vivian. The collages of Anne Ryan: Art. New York Times. January 13, 1980, p. CN18.


Brodsky, Judith K. Some notes on women printmakers. Art Journal. Summer, 1976). Volume 35 (4); pp. 374-377. College Art Association.

Myers, John Bernard. Anne Ryan's interior castle. Archives of American Art Journal. 1975. Vol 15 (3); 8-11. The Smithsonian Institution.


Messinger, Lisa Mintz. Abstract Expressionism: Works on Paper: Selections from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1992). Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. pp. 124-131. ISBN 978-0-300-08565-5