Sue began painting professionally at an early age. Encouraged by her father, Robert Ryder VC, an enthusiastic amateur painter who imbued his daughter with a similar passion, she entered the prestigious Byam Shaw School of Art. There, her tutor, Bernard Dunstan, introduced her to the work of the post- impressionist Edouard Vuillard, whose gentle scenes of intimate interiors, domestic spaces and gardens in soft blurred colours proved a significant influence on her painting style and choice of subject for the rest of her career. Sue was only 18, and still a student, when she first exhibited at the Royal Academy. Shortly after, she married Martin Bates and spent the next decade juggling the demands of her career with that of her young family, painting both interiors and portraits.
By 1981 her skills as a portrait painter were such that the Prince of Wales commissioned her to paint Diana, Princess of Wales in her wedding dress. In the ensuing three decades her career has been a blizzard of activity. Numerous prizes resulted in Sue being elected a member of both the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, serving the latter as Vice President from 2002 to 2008. Further recognition came in 1997 with a commission to paint HM The Queen from the Royal Automobile Club, in celebration of its centenary.
Sue’s work away from portraiture has proved even more successful, to the extent that the name Susan Ryder now conjures up images of the glorious interiors and sunlit terraces for which she is so well known. She occupies a place amongst the great names of contemporary British Impressionism as represented by the New English Art Club – a society of like-minded artists that can trace its philosophical roots from John Singer Sargent and Augustus John, through Stanley Spencer, to the present day and now includes Ken Howard, Tom Coates, Fred Cuming and Jane Corsellis. As a leading proponent of the New English style, Sue’s paintings remain in constant demand despite the ascendency of conceptualism in the current market and other passing trends. Her regular solo exhibitions in London invariably sell out, fuelling an increasingly strong secondary market – an indication of the sustained interest and appreciation of her work.
Sue’s interiors are visual feasts. Her delicate brush strokes bring every surface to life in these deliberately opulent settings - capturing the play of light from lamps or open fires, and how that light transforms the colours of furnishings and walls. From the warm red-orange glow of an evening fireside to the cooler morning sunlight brightening a hallway, her paintings depict happy, inviting places.
If her expert manipulation of light and colour convey this mood so successfully it is her clever compositional arrangements that add narrative. Sue’s paintings are suffused with evidence of life and activity: an open door, a hastily discarded coat, a recently abandoned card game all ask questions. Each room is left with the imprint of humanity, the shadow of an event enjoyed, a room to be returned to. Sue’s rooms and gardens are never empty, rather filled with the echoes of good company and humour, so that each setting develops a character its own.
Perhaps what comes across most in her work is the evident pleasure Sue takes in painting them. The luxuriant fabrics, the patina on a centuries old table, are all lovingly recorded in paint while the distinctive lack of figures may be her greatest indulgence. One of the country’s leading portrait painters has found solace by freeing herself from the discipline of a central character. After a lifetime studying people, figures and faces there is no wonder she enjoys the tranquility of an unpopulated room. © Panter & Hall 2013
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