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 William Tylee Ranney  (1813 - 1857)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Jersey/Connecticut      Known for: frontier genre, landscape and narrative history painting

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Ad Code: 1
William Tylee Ranney
from Auction House Records.
Kit Carson
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Middletown, Connecticut, William Ranney devoted his career to depicting the West.  As a young man, he apprenticed to a tinsmith in Fayetteville, North Carolina, having abandoned his study of art in New York City after the death of his sea-captain father.  To find adventure, he joined in 1836 the Texas army in its fight for independence against Mexico, and this period, very brief, was his only experience on the frontier.  It is likely that he met trappers on this venture, as several of his most popular paintings including The Trappers Last Shot, were based on a rowdy rendezvous with trapper Joseph Meek in Yellowstone Park.

Following this period of western adventure, he returned to Brooklyn where he lived, working in and around New York City for the next ten years.  In 1853, he moved his family to West Hoboken, New Jersey and built a studio large enough for animals including horses.  The walls were decorated with western items such as saddles, guns and swords.

His paintings included portraits and romanticized Revolutionary War history paintings and focused on pioneers, trappers, and scouts, especially Daniel Boone, opening up the frontier.  He also did numerous hunting scenes from the New Jersey marshes.  He was popular among his fellow artists, and after his death his fellow members of the National Academy had a memorial show to raise funds for his widow.

Sources include:
Harold and Peggy Samuels, "Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"
Peter Hassrick, "Drawn to Yellowstone"
William Ranney was born on May 9, 1813 in Middletown, Connecticut. He spent six
formative years in the hill country of North Carolina.  Having abandoned his study of art in New York City, he was apprenticed to a tinsmith in Fayetteville after the death of his sea captain father.  Two years later he went to Texas where he joined the Texas army in its fight for independence against Mexico; this brief period was his only experience on the frontier.

With the encouragement of the American Art Union, he executed three types of Western subjects: the Western trapper pursuing a dangerous life on the prairies; the pioneer family, heading across the plains with children, dogs and goods; and the dangers of emigration. 

He had returned to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived and worked for the next ten years. In 1853 the family moved to Hoboken, New Jersey where he built a studio large enough for animals including horses.  The walls were decorated with saddles, guns and swords.

Ranney died in West Hoboken, New Jersey on November 18, 1857.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
Glenn Opitz, Editor: Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, 1986-87
From the Internet, and

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, III:
William Ranney, son of a captain in the West Indies trade, was apprenticed from 1826 to 1833 to a tinsmith in Fayetteville, North Carolina where he had relatives.  He interrupted his painting studies in Brooklyn, New York to enlist in the Texan Army in 1836 to avenge the Alamo.  While serving as paymaster, he was deeply influenced both by the military and the trappers and hunters gathered in Texas.   For the rest of Ranney's career, he remembered their garb and anecdotes as romantic prairie life.

He was back in Brooklyn in 1837, established as a portrait painter by 1838. In 1843 his studio was in Manhattan. By 1848 he was in Weehawken, and by 1853 in West Hoboken, New Jersey where his studio was “so constructed as to lead a visitor to imagine he had entered a pioneer’s cabin or border chieftain’s hut.”

Ranney was a sportsman, playing with the New York Cricket Club until 1854.  He was described as a “glorious fellow” by Wiilliam Sidney Mount, and his artist friends rallied to the support of his family after his death from consumption.  Paintings for a benefit auction were donated by 95 artists including; Church, Bierstadt, Tait, Kensett, Inness, and the Harts.

Ranney’s Western paintings did not begin until almost 10 years after his return from Texas.  His approach was to tell a dramatic story about the white hunters and pioneers, ignoring the panoramic landscape and minimizing the role of the Indians. 

He was an important member of the new American genre school, and the leader of the school, Mount, thought enough of Ranney to complete paintings left in Ranney’s studio. Ranney’s work was reproduced at the time by the American Art-Union.

Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

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William Ranney is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Western Painters

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