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John Rutherford Boyd
Shirley Poppies


Signed (at lower right): Rutherford Boyd Rutherford Boyd was obsessed by the concept of design. For him, design was the fundamental basis for significant works of art in all media, and he spent the greater part of his life theorizing, experimenting, teaching, and writing about its principles. Whether the final image was a meticulously painted watercolor, a massive parabolic carving, or an abstract film based on his sculpture, each work, endowed with structural coherence and simplicity, was a synthesis of intuitive imagination and methodical organization. As an adolescent growing up in Philadelphia, Boyd worked in his father’s wood shop. After finishing high school at the Pennsylvania Manual Training School in 1901, he was granted a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he took the standard curriculum, which included antique, life, portraiture, and perspective classes. Boyd studied at the Academy with Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge. Under their tutelage he became a meticulous draftsman. After graduation, Boyd moved to New York City and actively pursued work as a free-lance illustrator and found employment through such magazines as McClure’s, Ladies Home Journal, Appleton’s, Century, Success, Collier’s Metropolitan, Cosmopolitan, Everybody’s, and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1909 Boyd moved back to Philadelphia to become an art director for Ladies Home Journal at the age of twenty-five. He went on to become the art director of five national magazines as well as advertising director for E. R. Squibb and Sons from 1925 to 1926. In 1917 Boyd met Jay Hambridge and attended the first in a series of Hambridge’s lectures on Dynamic Symmetry in New York. From this point on, he began to devote more time to this concept—first in pencil sketches, ink drawing, and mathematical statements, and later, during the 1930s and 1940s, in sculptures carved and modeled in wood, plaster, Lucite, and stone. The generation of abstract form, utilizing basic principles of proportion, became a significant aspect of Boyd’s work. Although he continued to undertake illustrative commissions, exhibit watercolors annually at the Pennsylvania Academy and the Art Institute of Chicago, and teach, the further development of design-related ideas and the exhibition of his sculpture became a priority. After 1917 Boyd became active in a group of American painters, students of Hambridge, who sought to modernize art. In his own design research Boyd constantly drew parallels with the ancient Greeks. His own ideas were thus conceived within an historical continuum: the propagation of a mathematical theory in which proportion linked the ancients with the twentieth century. Boyd actively embraced a synthesis of art, science and technology: a synthesis of intuition, industry, mathematics, and design which provided a foundation for the creation of new forms. Boyd painted floral still life subjects throughout his career. His choice of subject in this striking watercolor is the Shirley poppy. In 1880, the Reverend W. Wilkes, vicar of Shirley in England, found a new form of the annual poppy growing in his garden, whose flower had a narrow edge of white around each petal and no blotch. He sowed the seeds from that plant and continued to select from subsequent generations until he had a group of poppies with single, tissue-paper-like petals, no dark blotches at the base and colors ranging from pale pink to lilac and mauve, as well as red. These became known as Shirley poppies. Other gardeners over the years made selections from their plantings of Shirley poppies so that today there are double and semi-double forms and picotee flowers with lighter or darker edges. Shirley poppies need only be planted once, as they are reliable self-sowers. Their fragile, thin, silken pink and white petals lasted only three days on the tender pale green, bristly stems.


  • Movement & Style
  • Condition
  • Dimensions

    H 15 in. x W 8.13 in.

    H 38.1 cm x W 20.66 cm

  • Gallery location
    New York, NY
  • Reference number
  • Seller reference number
    APG 8547.002

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