William Ranney


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Painter. Known particularly for scenes of western life, he also painted other genre, sporting, and historical subjects, nearly all situated outdoors. Working in a studio filled with western props, such as guns, saddles, and other paraphernalia, as aids to verisimilitude in his popular specialty, he helped to crystallize American notions of frontier experience. A native of Middletown, Connecticut, William Tylee Ranney lived as a youth in North Carolina. By the time he was about twenty, he was studying drawing in Brooklyn. Although his formal art instruction remained limited, he developed a highly realistic painting style emphasizing minute detail and polished surfaces. In 1836 he traveled to Texas, but after his return the next year he continued to paint portraits, anecdotal scenes, and other narratives. About ten years later, as Charles Deas gained acclaim for western subjects and the Mexican War intensified interest in the area Ranney had visited, he returned for inspiration to the drawings and memories of his only journey to the region. Some of his western scenes emphasize action and adventure, but many quietly idealize the daily life of frontiersmen and pioneers. Old Scout's Tale (Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1853) depicts several listeners, including a mother and three children, absorbed by a frontiersman's narrative as they camp beside a covered wagon, presumably during a break in their journey westward. Several carefully rendered horses and dogs provide the animal companions common in Ranney's images. After living for a few years in Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, about 1853—already suffering from the tuberculosis that took his life—he moved permanently to nearby West Hoboken.

Subjects: Art.

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