Richard Yarde

Richard Yarde
Richard Yarde
Photo courtesy of the University of Massachusetts

Richard Yarde‘s vision was about healing: physical, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual. From the portrayals of African American icons to explorations of his own illness, his work encompassed the wide range of the human experience: from isolation to perseverance, triumph, and pure joy.

Richard Yarde was born in Boston in 1939 and for much of his life lived in Northampton Massachusetts. Yarde received a B.F.A. cum laude and a M.F.A. from Boston University. Since the mid-1960s, he has been a major presence in the New England art world. Mr. Yarde trained generations of young artists and was a Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 1990 until his death in 2011. His work enriched our sensibilities as he charted a unique watercolor style. Solo and group exhibitions throughout the country have featured his paintings, which reside permanently in nearly three dozen public collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Yarde tackled the traditionally intimate art of watercolor with uncharacteristic bravado. Unlike oil or acrylic painting, watercolor brooks no mistakes. Yet Yarde painted on a heroic scale with dazzling color, rich symbols and deeply evocative imagery.

Critics have written—and Yarde concured—that his body of work was an exploration of his own history. Early on he painted with joy and verve. He would splash the Roxbury neighborhood where he grew up in the 1950s on large sheets of paper, then turn to rendering imagined scenes from the vibrant jazz world of the Harlem Renaissance.

Later, as his own illness became a dominant factor in his life, it also became one in his painting. Imagery of fragmentation (like the gridwork of his trademark style) led to themes of healing and integration. Boldly, and on a grand scale, Richard Yarde took the disparate elements of our American culture, past and present, and our intellectual heritage and showed that they are one and the same with our own personal journeys to integrate them into a cohesive whole. Richard’s artistic journey is the journey of our American consciousness.

Further Reading

Showing Vital Signs: the Watercolors of Richard Yarde, American Visions

by Alona M. Horn, 1998

“Richard Yarde’s work defies the concept that watercolor paintings should be small, charming rendings of landscapes or flowers. His paintings are monumental in scale, and they express poignantly personal themes, using a medium that has traditionally been described as translucent and temporal…”


Death and Transfiguration – The Art of Richard Yarde, Bostonia

by Christine Temin, 1997

“Yarde’s art is a poignant and occasionally ecstatic meditation on his life. Its hallmarks have remained constant: the patchwork grid; the dots that have been compared to those of aboriginal art, braille, and pointillism; the figure as the essential subject.”


In the Realm of the Senses: The Works of Richard Yard

Herter Art Gallery, 2012

“In a remarkably prolific career spanning five decades, Professor Yarde produced some thirty solo shows and contributed to over seventy group exhibitions. His work now resides in outstanding private collections, in many college and university collections, and in such important public venues as the Wadsworth Atheneum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Smithsonian Institution.

Learn More

Read an article about the local memorial service and exhibits after Richard Yarde’s passing

Read the Boston Globe obituary.

Read the original New York Times review of the 1983 Savoy Ballroom installation at the Studio Museum in Harlem.


Commonwealth Award for Fine Art (2002)

Academy Award in Art from The American Academy of Arts and Letters (1995)


Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston