Henry Ryland was born in Bedfordshire, and was a pupil first of Benjamin Constant, and later of Boulanger. He exhibited at the RA from 1890, specialising in watercolour paintings of classically dressed girls on marble terraces in the style created by Alma Tadema. He was also a notable illustrator, and designed for other media, including stained glass windows.
Ryland's paintings established him as the foremost of the neoclassical painters working in watercolour. His pictures are typically of high finish, in French fashion, showing little hint of brushstroke, and he is somewhat comparable to J. W. Godward in subject and style. His subjects were generally developments of the same theme. Typically two or three girls with soft faces, short dark hair, little expression or action, draped in graceful folds of cloth or rarely nude, are shown relaxing on a marble terrace with birds, flowers drawn with botanical exactitude, and the odd classical vase. Some of his watercolours were widely reproduced as prints, especially his ideal portraits of girls. However engravings after Ryland's watercolours are sometimes less than successful, as the softness of the faces translates to weakness in the black and white line version.
Ryland was of great merit as a decorative illustrator. In particular, his woodcuts used as headers and footers in the English Illustrated Magazine in the 1880s and 1890s are very good indeed, and along with those by Heywood Sumner must rank among the best in this magazine. Ryland designed the soft cover for The Quiver magazine, and had an interest in the idea of the decorated page as espoused by Walter Crane. He attracted favorable comment for his line work from Joseph Pennell, and also from Crane in his book Decorative Illustration, where he noted Ryland's 'graceful decorative feeling'.
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Illustration // Other artists