To produce his gauzy atmospheres, Ryder often used unorthodox methods such as adding layers of paint while underlying coats were still wet. The physical instability of his materials altered the paintings over time, and few of Ryder’s works today look as they did when he completed them.
Ryder’s seascapes, such as Misty Moonlight, derive in part from recollections of his childhood in coastal New Bedford, Massachusetts. The painting’s spare composition, which consists of rectangles of sea and sky, the triangular forms of a sailing ship, and a round moon, prevents the imposition of a specific narrative and invites imaginative contemplation. Ryder’s harmonious color scheme of blacks and greenish grays unifies the painting’s four components and reinforces its somewhat melancholy air.