Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

RANNEY, WILLIAM (1813-1857)

William Tylee Ranney, born in Middletown, Connecticut, on May 9, 1813, achieved a substantial reputation as a genre artist specializing in hunting and western scenes prior to his death in Hoboken, New Jersey, on November 18, 1857, at the age of forty-four.

Since he was born and died in the East, Ranney's affinity for western subjects requires explanation. The war for Texas independence lured him west in 1836, when he was an art student in Brooklyn, and he spent a formative year in the Southwest that left no impression on his work as a portraitist and painter of history and genre scenes until 1846, when the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War created a demand for western subjects. Unlike George Catlin, Ranney was not a painter of Indians. He concentrated on white pioneers and, a contemporary thought, "caught the spirit of border adventures."

Ranney's style was highly refined if rather static, and he was adept at the precise detail dear to genre painting with its focus on everyday life. His western scenes depicted parties of pioneer men and women on the move and picturesque frontier types sometimes fighting Indians, more often gossiping in and meandering through a spacious land tinted in sunset colors. Though his only personal experience was in Texas, Ranney generalized the settings in his western paintings. Texas became the "broad prairie" in The Retreat (1850), which showed three trappers fleeing from pursuing Indians across an open country devoid of shelter, and in Advice on the Prairie (1853), which showed a party of emigrants listening raptly to a veteran plainsman tell them of what lay ahead. Ranney, in short, worked his own variations on the West as a theater for perilous adventure and as a prospective paradise for those who dreamed of a land of milk and honey.

Brian W. Dippie University of Victoria

Dippie, Brian W. West-fever. Los Angeles: Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Association with the University of Washington Press, 1998.

Grubar, Francis S. William Ranney: Painter of the Early West. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1962.

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