Anne Ryan

Printmaking and Collage

Anne Ryan (American 1889-1954) was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. She was a self-taught writer, painter and printmaker who took up her preferred medium of collage at the age of 58. She married attorney William McFadden in 1911 and had 3 children. She was legally separated from her husband in 1923. Her daughter Elizabeth McFadden is also an artist.  Ryan published her book of poems, Lost Hills in 1925, and her novel, Raquel in 1926.  She moved to Majorca in 1931 as an independent woman with her three children. Two years later she returned to the US, to Greenwich Village in downtown NYC, where her neighbors and friends were poets, actors, writers and artists associated with the New York School, including the painter Hans Hoffmann and the sculptor Tony Smith, who encouraged Ryan to paint. She opened a restaurant to support her children (and did the cooking herself). She also designed costumes and backdrops for ballet productions.


1 Anne Ryan 640 collage 256 at MoMA
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #256


The image above is Untitled Collage #256 (dated 1949), 6 ¾ x 5 ½ inches, made with cut and pasted colored and printed papers, cloth and string on paper, in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, gift of Elizabeth McFadden. All of Anne Ryan’s collages are untitled (just numbered). She is recognized as an Abstract Expressionist collage artist and created about 400 tiny collages in a brief period, from 1948 to the year of her death in 1954

I first saw this collage and two other collages by Anne Ryan in the 2017 MoMA survey exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (April 19 – August 12, 2017). The exhibition included 94 works by 53 women artists from the USA and other countries. Anne Ryan’s untitled collage #256 was one of 3 collages by the artist in the exhibition. I learned Ryan was inspired to create collage when she saw an exhibition of works by the German artist Kurt Schwitters in 1948. The signage at the MoMA exhibition said “…Ryan’s all-over compositions and linear movements of the woven, often frayed papers and fabrics evoke the gestural energy of Abstract Expressionism.”




2 Anne Ryan 640 color woodcut Primavera copy
Anne Ryan, Primavera, Color Woodcut


Ryan’s first contact with the New York Avant-garde came in 1941 when she joined the Atelier 17, a famous printmaking workshop founded by the British artist Stanley William Hayter. The Atelier was first established in Paris in the 1930s and then brought to New York when Hayter had to flee the Vichy regime during the Nazi occupation of France. Ryan became an important member of the Atelier. Her preferred print media was the woodcut.

The image above is Ryan’s color woodcut on paper titled Primavera, dated 1947. The print sheet size is 14 ½ x 19 inches. The print image is 11 ½ x 15 ½ inches. This woodcut was a museum purchase and is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.  Many of Ryan’s woodcuts and other prints are in permanent museum collections throughout the U.S.

Ryan created about 100 prints between 1941 and 1948, including woodcuts, monotypes, and intaglio.  She did inventive things with her woodcuts, adopting the white-line woodcut technique that involved making incised lines around the shapes of a woodcut composition and adding color to the print. Ryan took the technique in a different direction by substituting black paper as her substrate, so the images were black on black.  The blue, white and yellow colors in Primavera were added with paint after the print was pulled. Ryan printed with oil-based inks, and applied oil paint to areas in the print with her fingers and small rollers that make each print unique. She layered thick pigments interspersed with thin glazes to create varied surfaces and textures. Ryan worked with linear, semi-abstract figure images. Her subjects included still life, bathers, reclining nudes, and juggling clowns.



3 Anne Ryan 640 collage #57 at the MET
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #57


From 1948 to her death in 1954, Ryan created about four hundred tiny collages with fabric, found media and hand-made papers. The image above is an untitled collage (#57), dated ca. 1950, 6 ½ x 5 1/8 inches, made with cut and pasted fabrics, papers and bamboo on paper. He design is in an oval shape, mounted on textured, white handmade paper. The oval is made with rectangles in tones of red, pink, rose, white, grey, black and taupe. This collage was one of twenty-three (23) works included in the exhibition The Prismatic Eye: Collages by Anne Ryan, 1948-54 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 4-September 6, 2010). Ryan’s daughter Elizabeth McFadden said her mother was enthralled with the way Schwitters (1887-1948) combined papers, saying: “What he could do in such a small space…How he transformed bits of paper and scraps of cloth!”…”

McFadden also said her mother made her first collages the same day she saw the Schwitters exhibition: “Mother went from one collage to another in a passion of delight…We went home and before she put water on for supper, she was at her work table making collages.”


4 Anne Ryan 640 collage #8 Schwitters
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #8


The image above is an Untitled collage (#8), not dated, made with paper and chalk on paperboard, mounted on paperboard, 5 ¾ x 4 ½ inches. Collage #8 is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, gift of Elizabeth McFadden.

With Collage #8 you see how Ryan imitated Schwitters by including snippets of printed text in her work. #8 is not dated, but it probably was created at the beginning of Ryan’s collage practice. The white line drawing may be a woodcut print remnant. Notice the tiny paper triangle with a photo image of airplanes. Notice the soft, torn edges of the background papers, layered creamy white on red brown on white. The sense of texture is yummy. I included this image to show Schwitter’s early influence, but also show Ryan was moving toward working with hand-made papers and fabric. According to Elizabeth McFadden, her mother collected fabrics and preferred them worn, even tattered or frayed, combining fabrics with cardboard, foil, or cellophane to create, tiny textured abstract arrangements. Ryan rarely painted or made marks on the surfaces of her papers or fabric.


5 Anne Ryan 640 collage #538 Hirschhorn
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #538


Ryan created collages arranged in a tight geometric grid design. The image above is Untitled #538 (1953) and part of the permanent collection at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. The beautiful textured papers look like a quilt with pieces stitched together and shows a composition in soft greys, black and white, tan and rosy brown.


6 Anne Ryan 640 collage #175 paper & netting
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #175


The image above is Untitled #175. It includes overlapping fabrics and papers, including silk, netting, handmade rag paper and Japanese rice papers. FYI: Ryan used hand made papers created by Douglass Howell, an important pioneer in papermaking.  Many artists, including Joan Miro, Stanley William Hayter, Jasper Johns, and Jackson Pollock also worked with Howell’s beautiful papers for printing, collage, drawing and watercolor. Ryan’s collages are exquisite because she worked with exquisite media.


7 Anne Ryan 640 collage #319 at MET
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #319


The image above is Untitled #319, dated 1949, made with a multitude of cut and torn papers, fabrics, gold foil and bast fiber pasted on paper, mounted on black paper, 7 ¾ x 6 ¾ inches. Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, gift of Elizabeth McFadden. It’s another small work with great dynamic energy.


8 Anne Ryan 640 collage #164
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #164


The image above is Untitled #164 (1951), made with cut and pasted colored and painted papers and cloth on paper, 4 x 3 ¾ inches, collection: the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Elizabeth McFadden.  This shows a design with textured papers and linen mesh fabric pieces, cut into triangles and squares that are are glued on a natural white textured paper background. I like the simple arrangement and frayed edges of the fabric pieces and the play of monochromatic tones in this collage.


9 Anne Ryan 640 collage #353 at MoMA
Anne Ryan, Untitled Collage #353


The image above is Untitled #353 (1949), made with cut and pasted colored paper, cloth and string on paper, 7 ½ x 6 7/8 inches, collection: The Museum of Modern Art, gift of Elizabeth McFadden.

This collage was included in the 2017 MoMA survey exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (April 19-Auugst 13, 2017). MoMA has 4 Anne Ryan collages in its permanent collection and showed #353 with 2 other collages by her. I wrote 3 posts about the exhibition and my third post opens with this collage image. I  included a link to a NY Times review by Holland Cotter that showed the same Ryan collage. He challenged MoMA to reorganize their permanent collection galleries that draw the largest crowds and “put Anne Ryan next to Kurt Schwitters and Jackson Pollock to see how that shakes out, historically and atmospherically…” I agree.

Ryan’s resume is stellar, but we don’t see much of her work. In the 1950s her collages were included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Annuals and Biennials in NYC (1951, 1953 and 1955).

She was included in the groundbreaking 1951 Ninth Street Show in NY (May 21-June 10, 1951). Her cohort were the New York avant-garde, known as the New York School, including Elaine and Willem deKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Goodnough, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, David Smith, Franz Kline and Hans Hoffmann.

Ryan’s works can be seen in many group exhibitions organized by the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 100 Eleventh Avenue, New York. She is included in his roster of 20thand 21stcentury American artists.


I was surprised – and happy – when I saw Ryan’s 3 collages side by side in the survey exhibition at MoMA. I have to ask myself why I didn’t I know about her work, and why all the online reviews always referenced Kurt Schwitters’ influence.  I think Ryan was an original. Artists and the art world acknowledged her when she was alive, but her reputation was eclipsed after her death in 1954. The small size of her work was an important factor. Small didn’t count.

I’m glad the curators for Making Space scoured the MoMA collections and found 3 Ryan collages to include in the survey show. I saw Ryan’s works in the same setting with grand paintings by Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Yayoi Kusama. I am inspired by Anne Ryan’s dedication to collage. The number of works she created and the quality of each one is an amazing testament to her commitment and creative genius. I agree with Holland Cotter – Ryan’s works need to be seen in the public galleries and not hidden away.

6 thoughts on “Anne Ryan

  1. thanks nancy, i saw some of her works years ago and it was a pleasure to revisit them…i love the monochrome ones and the wonderful sense of design…they are so right! …irmari

  2. Hi Nancy, It was fun to read about your discovery of Anne Ryan’s collage work. How unfortunate it is that “big” eclipses “small” all too often in the art world. In her small works, Anne Ryan’s collages have every bit of the dynamism of a Pollock or the gestural power of a Kline. They are beautiful meditations on materials, energy, and life.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Preparing for my talk at the Hoboken Historical Museum led me to do historic research. I discovered sources that were not available when I did the 1st post about Anne Ryan several years ago. I didn’t see Ryan’s works at the Washburn Gallery. I asked Ryan’s grandson if Washburn would mount another retrospective and I hope they do. Thanks for reading the post.

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