“Trout Chasing Minnows”
Born on July 23, 1879, in Camden, New Jersey, Boyer studied across the Delaware at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. There he quickly became a favorite student of his well-known teachers: accomplished artists William Merit Chase And Thomas Anschutz.
“Lip Of The Pool” – Dry-point
Along with the envy of his classmates, Boyer’s considerable talents won him the Cresson Scholarship for European travel. While studying in Spain, Boyer contemplated the works of his life-long hero, Velasquez. Later, during his travels to London and Amsterdam, Boyer studied the works of Rembrant and Vermeer, whom admirers of Boyer’s work said inspired and enriched his artistic capabilities.
“The Strike” – Dry-point
Upon completion of his formal training Boyer’s peers considered him technically accomplished and admired the honesty and sincerity of his portraits, which were his specialty and planned livelihood. Shortly after his European travels World War I interrupted the onset of Boyer’s career. Commissioned by the US Marine Camouflage Division, Boyer headed the Baltimore Department, a unit assigned to paint warships. Ironically, Boyer’s artistic talents did not win him this post, but instead, his abilities as a leader gained him the position. Evidently Boyer had a knack for transforming a crew of otherwise procrastinators into a team of diligent workers …a vital skill in the armed forces.
“End Of The Fight” – Dry-point
After the war Boyer returned home and moved to Greenwich Village, a flourishing community where many young artists set out to establish themselves. While Boyer still concentrated on portrait painting, he now supplemented this work with illustrations for magazines such as Harper’s and Scribner’s.
Boyer married fellow Academy student Rebecca Hunt in 1920 and a few years afterwords they moved to Westport, Connecticut, to a home in the heart of the Coleytown area, a charming section of town through which still flows a superb trout stream. It was overlooking the Saugatuck from his tiny red studio, just above a picturesque trout pool, where Boyer did his finest and most recognized work; angling drypoints and landscapes. Drypoint etching is a technique used in preparing metal plates for printmaking by scratching the image directly into the plate.
“Trout #3″ – Dry-point
A lover of people, nature and fly fishing, Boyer’s favorite subjects were close at hand. While portraits and illustrations were still his primary source of income, Boyer’s new surroundings tempted him to create quite a few sporting drypoints …predominantly angling scenes.
At about this same time “…an American sportsman (Eugene V. Connett, III), who was also a collector of sporting books and prints, commenced a unique undertaking, The Derrydale Press, the purpose of which was to publish prints and books on fine rag papers which would endure through coming centuries, and thus preserve attractive records of present day sport in this country.”
“An Anxious Moment – Salmon Fishing” Published By Derrydale In 1937. Edition size 250.
Given the aforementioned purpose of The Derrydale Press, as stated in their 1931 catalog, it is apropos that they published Boyer’s “Father’s of American Sport,” a series of six portraits issued that same year. I’d imagine it was no coincidence that one of the sporting pioneers Boyer chose for this series, Thaddeus Norris, Esq., was also a father of Boyer’s favorite pastime, fly fishing. Norris, author of “The American Angler’s Book,” was a staunch advocate of fly fishing and did much to advance the art of the sport. The Thaddeus Norris print is aptly titled “Angler“.
Thaddeus Norris, Esq. “Angler”. Published By Derrydale in 1931
The remaining five “Father’s of American Sport” are: Col. William Ransom Johnson (Horseman), Samuel Morris, Esq. (Fox Hunter), Col. George Washington (Fox Hunter), Commodore John Cox Stevens (Yachtsman), and Henry William Herbert, Esq (Sports Writer, pen name Frank Forester). Although each of these six prints was available in an edition of 250, to date I have encountered extremely few examples.
Derrydale’s next offering of Boyer’s work was the 1936 publishing of “After A Big One – Dry Fly Fishing” (edition of 200), followed by the issue of “An Anxious Moment – Salmon Fishing” in 1937 (edition of 250). During this period Derrydale also commissioned Boyer to illustrate several of their books, including “New Lines For Fly Fishing” (1936) and “Random Casts” (1939), among others. In particular, I find “After A Big One – Dry Fly Fishing” to be an exceptional work. Boyer had a simply uncanny ability to capture the very essence ….the serenity of the sport.
“After A Big One – Dry Fly Fishing”. Published By The Derrydale Press In 1936 In An Edition of 200.
Not an art critic, but certain of what I like, I enjoy Boyer’s works because they “feel” like fly fishing …Boyer’s works convincingly convey the tranquility, the excitement, the intensity, the many different moods of fly fishing. His scenes are natural and honest.
The 1937 Derrydale catalog states that these prints are “hand colored” (water colors actually, also referred to as “aquatints”) with hand engraved titles …which raises the question of how Boyer was able to color so many prints by himself. Well …he didn’t. With each print Derrydale published Boyer submitted a single print that he had himself colored and then it was up to the staff artists at Derrydale to faithfully color the prints exactly as Boyer has executed the original.
“Atlantic Salmon” – Dry-point
As I eluded to earlier, my research has shown that it was actually his work in dry-point (etchings) for which Boyer became most recognized. This was perhaps due to the sheer volume of his work in dry-point as opposed to prints. However, Boyer’s dry-points were limited to edition sizes of 50 to 75, considerably smaller editions than his prints. So, while finding a Boyer dry-point is easier than finding a print, locating a specific dry-point is most difficult (i.e., incredibly frustrating).
Along with Boyer’s signature, all Boyer dry-points that I have seen are also marked “impRLB” in his own hand. Having seen only only one Boyer dry-point without these markings, I assume Boyer did all of his own printing. The single example I have found that is not marked “impRLB” is instead marked “impRHB”, presumably indicating it was printed, perhaps posthumously, by his wife, Rebecca Hunt Boyer.
“Setting The Hook” – Dry-point
I can only guess as to how many angling dry-points Boyer created. A posthumous tribute to Boyer, given by the Director of Art of Westport, Connecticut, contained fifteen angling dry-points, among a host of other works. However, as far as I can tell, Boyer’s sporting prints consist solely of the eight that I have mentioned previously, all of which were published by The Derrydale Press.
Naturally, Boyer did not restrict his artistic endeavors to portraits and sporting scenes alone. During his tenure on the Board of Managers of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Boyer designed the stained glass windows of the Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, which were later executed by Nicola D’Ascenzo. In the 1940′s Boyer painted several large scale murals of life-size individuals. Typically these murals depicted fictional gatherings of famous literary figures. One such mural adorned the interior of Rockefeller Center in New York City. Another, owned by the town of Westport, has gone in and out of storage over the years and embellished the library at Staples High School in the 1970′s.
“Young Trout” – Pencil
Upon his death in 1952, Boyer’s long-time friend James Daugherty penned a tribute to Boyer that appeared in The Westport News. Daugherty recounted the life of Boyer and remarked “…to have met or known Ralph Boyer at all was a privilege. To have known him well was a convincing renewal of faith in the richness, sweetness and integrity of the human spirit”. This came to me as no surprise as countless hours staring at his works had me convinced he was an earnest, kindhearted soul.
“The Last Run” – Dry-point
I am grateful to Lou Razek of The Highwood Bookshop, Harold Whitman of The Bedford Sportsman, Brian McGrath of The Leonard Rod Company and the Westport Library for their assistance in my research.
This Pencil Drawing By Ralph L. Boyer Was Used As An Illustration In Eugene V. Connett’s (Derrydale Press) “Random Casts”
Untitled Pencil Drawing
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