Unidentified photographer, Ruth Cyril, ca. 1960. Courtesy Guggenheim Foundation Archives, New York.
Ruth Cyril, Undersea, 1955. Aquatint, plate: 19 x 31 7/8 in. (48.3 x 81 cm), sheet: 24 ¾ x 36 ½ in. (62.9 x 92.7 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Rosenwald Collection, 1964.8.547.

19. Ruth Cyril

Life Dates1920-unknown
Place of BirthNew York, NY, USA
Place of DeathUnknown
Birth NameRuth Goldfarb

Ruth Goldfarb was the oldest of three daughters born to Charles and Esther Goldfarb. The working-class family lived in the Bronx’s University Heights neighborhood. While attending Walton High School, Goldfarb took art classes at the Greenwich House, a former settlement house offering after-school enrichment programs. After graduating in 1937, Goldfarb studied at several local institutions: Hunter College (1939), the New School for Social Research (1940–42), studio schools of Hans Hofmann and Vaclav Vytlacil (roughly 1943–45), and the School of Contemporary Art, an as-yet-unidentified institution.1 At the last school, she learned jewelry design, which provided steady employment in years to come.2 By 1947, when she joined Atelier 17, Goldfarb had changed her last name to “Cyril,” and she eventually dropped “Ruth” in favor of simply “Cyril,” an androgynous pseudonym.3 According to Fred Becker, who taught Cyril’s introductory class at Atelier 17, her initial prints were highly influenced by Hayter.4 Eventually, she developed unique ways of achieving sculptural depth by introducing techniques she practiced in jewelry design. As seen in the print Undersea, she exposed her plates to violent open-biting in the acid bath and scratched stiff wire brushes to create semi-abstract and atmospheric effects. Cyril traveled to Paris in June 1950 to hone her printmaking skills at Paris Imprimeurs, and she remained a member of Atelier 17 until its closure in 1955, serving as workshop monitor in May 1952. She earned a Fulbright grant in 1957–58, through which she traveled to France, studied at the Sorbonne’s Institut d’Art et d’Archéologie, and joined the print publisher La Guilde Internationale de la Gravure.5 Cyril staked her professional reputation on printmaking. She had international solo shows at Nina Dausset Gallery, Paris (1950), Redfern Gallery, London (1950), and Circle and Square Gallery, New York (1954), and in 1959 she organized a major traveling exhibition of prints, which toured to the Addison Gallery of American Art, McNay Art Museum, and Portland Art Museum, among other venues.6 She also earned a prestigious solo show at the Smithsonian Institution’s Division of Graphic Arts in spring 1963.7 Despite her important contributions to experimental printmaking and her constant professional activity, Cyril’s further career details remain fuzzy. She was loosely affiliated with the art dealer Leo Castelli from the mid-1940s onward, and also showed prints with Knoedler and Company.8 As a result of her name change, her birth date is usually given inaccurately as 1938, and her death date cannot yet be confirmed.9


Application materials, Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Special Exhibition File, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Selected Bibliography

Cyril: Gravures et Eaux-Fortes, Aquarelles et Peintures. Paris: Galerie “La Gravure,” 1961.

“Remodeled Museum Interior to Be Opened to Public View Saturday.” The Evening Independent. December 17, 1965.


  1. In résumés, Cyril said she studied with Vytlacil at the Art Students League, but there is no official record of her enrollment with him. Her student record card (filed under “Goldfarb”) lists one summer course in 1939 with Nathaniel Dirk; see Art Students League of New York student registration cards.
  2. In applications to the Guggenheim Foundation, Cyril listed many jewelry design jobs for Tiffany and Co., Trabert and Hoeffer, Charles Valliant Inc., and others. Guggenheim Foundation archives, New York.
  3. She never married, and thus it is unclear where “Cyril” came from. Anti-Semitism may have been at play. It appears that Cyril’s parents adopted the surname as well. In her 1960 application for a Guggenheim grant, Cyril indicated her next of kin were Charles and Esther Cyril; Guggenheim Foundation archives, New York.
  4. Fred Becker, recommendation letter for Cyril’s 1953 application for a Guggenheim fellowship, Guggenheim Foundation archives, New York.
  5. For more information on La Guilde Internationale de la Gravure, see entries L.1110b and L.4670 in Frits Lugt, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins et d’Estampes.
  6. Cyril continued to market this exhibition into the 1960s.
  7. The file for Ruth Cyril in the Special Exhibition File, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution provides a major resource of career information.
  8. Stanley William Hayter to Helen Phillips, “Friday” [no date, likely mid-1940s], says: “Castelli promoting with who would you think… your young friend Cyril,” Helen Phillips Papers, Paris. Leo Castelli Gallery Records, Archives of American Art/Smithsonian Institution, also has a smattering of information about Cyril (box 44/folder 17 and box 106/folder 18).
  9. Cyril’s life dates are often given as 1938 to 1988, based on another person named Ruth Cyril.