Ralph Eugene Meatyard

American (Normal, Illinois, 1925 - 1972, Lexington, Kentucky)


ca. 1964
photograph | gelatin silver print
Not on view at this time; find out where you can see works from our collection at locations around the Bay Area while our building is closed for expansion
  • Untitled (Cranston Ritchie)

    Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, ca. 1964; gelatin silver print, 6 11/16 in. x 6 13/16 in. (16.99 cm x 17.3 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase and a gift of Jonathan Morgan; © The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

A self-taught artist, Meatyard became interested in photography through his work as an optician. His most frequent subjects were his Kentucky family and friends, whom he depicted in staged tableaux that often seem like re-creations of the artist's dreams or visions.

This example, showing Meatyard's friend, the photographer Cranston Ritchie, is part of a series in which Ritchie appears with mannequins and other props. Before he lost his life to cancer, Ritchie suffered the amputation of his hand and then his entire arm. The truncated body of the mannequin eerily foretells Ritchie's future. The mirror in the center reflects some unseen light, engaging the viewer and deepening the pictorial space. Death and decay are themes that had occupied Meatyard since 1955, when he produced a series on tombstones.

An avid reader whose library contained more than eighteen hundred volumes, Meatyard frequently collaborated with authors such as his friend and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry. Meatyard's final project, The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater (1974), was inspired by a story by Flannery O'Connor.

6 11/16 in. x 6 13/16 in. (16.99 cm x 17.3 cm)
Acquired 1989
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase and a gift of Jonathan Morgan
© The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco


men, mannequins, dress forms, mirrors, amputees, prosthetics

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