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 Michael James Riddet  (1947 - )

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin/Illinois      Known for: birds, still life and trompe l'oeil painting

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Michael James Riddet
An example of work by Michael James Riddet
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following biography, submitted March 2007, is from the artist whose studio is in Gay Mills, Wisconsin.

Although best known for 30 years as a painter of natural history, a new direction began in 1997 when Riddet began exploring the techniques and history of Trompe l'Oeil painting.  Today, the majority of his easel work is in this style.

Born in Northwest England in 1947on the southern fringe of England's famed Lake District, Michael Riddet was surrounded by an environment that was to leave an indelible image of natural beauty.  His family emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Illinois in 1956.  It wasn't until his early teens that a keen interest in painting was rekindled when introduced to the art collection hanging on the walls of his middle school walls, a collection amassed by the school principal, Nettie J. McKinnon with funds raised from magazine subscriptions sold by the students.  Each year, McKinnon would carefully select what she felt were "good" pieces of work from both American and European painters.  A portrait by John Singer Sargent was added and hung in Riddet's art room in 1960. Today, the "Nettie J. McKinnon Collection of American Art" is priceless.

Being surrounded by great art in school and access to work of marine painter, Charles Vickery, who had a studio in the same town, were the catalysts that prompted Riddet to seriously think of pursuing an artistic journey.  Vickery encouraged the young artist, and regular Saturday morning studio chat sessions with other professional painters only heated the desire to paint full time.  Vickery's philosophy was that it was possible to make a living at the easel if you are willing to make sacrifices and starve graciously. 

American painters who had the greatest early influence on Riddet were John Audubon and Andrew Wyeth, but Riddet's preoccupation with this naturalistic realism and tight rendering did not fit in with the art worlds' or university's preoccupation with Modernism during the 60's so he pursued a degree at Roosevelt University in Chicago in his other area of interest, the natural sciences.  This turned out to be a wise decision as he landed a day job job as artist/naturalist with a local forest preserve district designing exhibits, writing, lecturing and teaching environmental education.

His efforts turned to the easel at night painting natural history subjects for an ever increasing number of clients.  A big break came in 1975 when Emmett Reid Blake, Curator Emeritus of Birds at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History recommended to the Chicago Tribune Magazine that they use Riddet's work to accompany a story on birds of the Midwest.  At the same time, the dean of Canadian bird painters, Terence Shortt, recommended that Riddet paint full time.

As easel work increased and a major commission on African birds for Animal Kingdom Magazine began to take up most of his time, Riddet and his wife decided to pull up stakes, cash everything in and cast all common sense to the wind.  In 1979 they purchased fifty acres in Southwest Wisconsin and designed and built their house and studios.

His originals have now been shown in over 60 museums here and abroad.  Michael Riddet was elected in 1996 to the Society of Animal Artists and has received the bronze medal of excellence.  He was elected into the Chicago Palette & Chisel Academy of Art in 2001, and is also a member of the International Guild of Realism.  The transition to trompe l'oeil painting was not a conscious decision initially, but he found it technically challenging and inventive, allowing imagination and occasionally humor to dictate the subject material.  He also admits that it is pure "fun".  An aspect of natural history is still found in most works and occasionaly a social, political or environmental message.  Some works simply invite the viewer into interpreting the painted image.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Michael Riddet is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Trompe l'Oeil Painting

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