Private collection, Massachusetts, until 1994
Private collection, Maine, by descent
Note: The original owner of The Pond Cover was a member of The Laurel Brook Club in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, a club to which the artist also belonged.
The art of Aiden Lassell Ripley is experiencing a resurgence. Recently, the artist was the subject of a retrospective at the Cape Cod Museum of Art (August–October, 2008), his work and life were the subject of an article in the American Art Review (August 2008), and a forthcoming publication will offer the most comprehensive analysis of the artist’s oeuvre to date. These studies offer an intriguing look into his career as a leading sporting-art painter.
Raised in Wakefield, Massachusetts, Ripley seemed destined to become a disciple of the Boston School. In 1914 he began his studies at the Fenway School of Illustration and later enrolled at the Boston Museum School, where Frank Benson and Philip Leslie Hale were teaching. According to Edward Weeks, Ripley’s education was cut short when he enlisted in the Army during World War I; despite the armistice treaty of November of 1918, he remained in Europe until the Treaty of Versailles (1919).
Ripley’s time at the Boston Museum School was formative. Benson, a noted Impressionist and wildlife painter, had a profound affect on the fledgling artist. Ripley’s early works mirror Benson’s Impressionistic style, while the younger artist’s sporting pictures from the 1940s and 1950s highlight an even stronger connection between teacher and pupil. The latter’s influence would prove essential to Ripley’s career, as he was—and remains—“best known for his sporting work.”
Ripley’s specialization came at the right time. As noted by Stephen O’Brien, sporting art became popular in America by the mid-nineteenth century, as “the Industrial Revolution had created an upwardly mobile middle class . . . that enjoyed time for leisure pursuits such as hunting and fishing for sport.” The popularity of hunting and its representation in art increased throughout the subsequent decades with the indefatigable adventurer Theodore Roosevelt and others leading the way. During the mid-twentieth century the intertwining of masculinity and hunting persisted with the writings and exploits of such public figures as the author Ernest Hemingway. More than a sport, hunting was regarded as tradition and a means of adventure for the newly hemmed-in, corporate gentleman.
Ripley’s hunting scenes perfectly fit within the tenets of the genre and its cultural significance. The Pond Cover, an example of the artist’s finer work, likely was commissioned by an upper-middle-class patron. Set within a multicolored, autumn landscape, two men and their setters hunt what appears to be the woodcock, the artist’s favorite subject. The small woodland bird is almost made invisible by the vast landscape; however, Ripley resolves this potential mishap through the insertion of sight lines provided by the hunter and his dog at the left. Aiming his rifle, the man provides a diagonal that leads to the prey. Signaling his find with tail extended and body pointing, the dog creates another diagonal that directs the eye to the tiny, floating bird. The estate that looms in the background atop the rolling green hills may be the home of the patron for whom the work was made. Masterfully painted, The Pond Cover beautifully conveys the masculine tradition of the hunt and Ripley’s demonstrable knowledge of his chosen specialty.
Ripley was a member of numerous associations, including the Audubon Artists, National Academy of Design, American Society of Watercolor Painters, and Guild of Boston Artists, for which he served as president (1860–69). He exhibited works nationwide at venues such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, his works may be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Art Institute of Chicago.
. Elizabeth Ives Hunter, “Aiden Lassell Ripley (1896–1969),” American Art Review 20, no. 4 (July–Aug. 2008):130–35; the forthcoming publication will be co-authored by Julie Carlson and Stephen B. O’Brien.
. Stephen O’Brien Jr. “An Introduction to American Sporting Art,” Antiques & Fine Arts, n.d., http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=163.