The short-lived American painter William Ranney (1813–1857) was best known for his western canvases, but his range of work included portraits, hunting and sporting scenes, lighthearted genre scenes and historical portrayals. From historical subjects such as Washington Rallying the Americans at the Battle of Princeton to iconic images like Boone's First View of Kentucky and depictions of western expansion including The Trapper's Last Shot and Kit Carson, Ranney's vibrant and powerful works had a defining influence on the way Americans viewed themselves. The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney (June 26–August 19, 2007), the first comprehensive exhibition of Ranney's career in over 40 years.
Taken together, Ranney's paintings present a portrait of early American life and westward expansion while at the same time they evoke a mythology that vividly reflected the artist's own time and place. His subjects range from Revolutionary War scenes to families headed to the Frontier, from the festivity of a Virginia wedding to the grief of burying a child who died on the prairie. Painting in the mid-1800s, Ranney frequently imagined the anonymous figures that established new communities, creating images of self-reliant people struggling to settle and cultivate a wild landscape. Containing few references to the Native American populations, his work reflected a distinctively Euro-American 19th-century viewpoint that reinforced enduring concepts relating to the character of the American people. Some 60 works of art have been gathered from public and private collections across the U.S. for Forging an American Identity, which has been organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
"This project includes paintings that rarely travel and some that are newly re-discovered," said Dr. Sarah E. Boehme, formerly the John S. Bugas Curator of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, now the director of the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas. "We’ve learned so much more about William Ranney which makes this exhibition an unparalleled gathering of the artist's most significant paintings. Viewers will be treated to those new insights in a rare showing that, quite frankly, they might never otherwise see."
Born in 1813 in Connecticut, Ranney began to develop his artistic interest by age 13. By 1833, he was studying painting and drawing in New York. He became a volunteer in the war for Texas independence in early 1836, absorbing lessons from the culture and landscape of the American west that would inspire him for the rest of his life. After the war, he embarked on his art career in earnest and submitted paintings to the National Academy of Design and the American Art-Union in New York.
Ranney eventually settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey with his wife, Margaret, and two sons. Proximity to New York allowed him regular access to the city's exhibitions and art markets. The rural setting of his home provided land for his house and studio as well as opportunities to hunt and fish—which naturally informed his paintings. It was in this studio that Ranney created many of his most important pictures. He died in 1857 of tuberculosis, having produced about 150 paintings in his brief lifetime.
"It is a pleasure to reintroduce the work of such a talented artist, whose brief career encompassed so many subjects that touch on American history and character," said Kathleen Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "His stories of western life will be welcome in Philadelphia, because such work is rarely seen here, while his sporting subjects set in the New Jersey marshes will enjoy a homecoming."
Scholars Linda Bantel and Peter Hassrick have catalogued and analyzed Ranney’s paintings, providing the context for the interpretation in the exhibition. Their documentation of all the known works by Ranney is included in the publication Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney: With a Catalogue of His Works. The fully illustrated book also presents essays by Boehme and by painting conservator Mark Bockrath. It is now available in the Museum store or by calling 1-800-329-4856 or via the internet.
William Ranney: American Patriot, Sportsman, Artist
Friday, June 29, 2007 at 6 p.m.
Van Pelt Auditorium
Art historian Linda Bantel spent 10 years researching the life and work of William Ranney in preparation for the detailed catalogue of his work published in conjunction with the exhibition Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney. In this talk, she will discuss some of the important new discoveries and place Ranney’s work within the larger context of America’s artistic, social, and political environments of the mid-nineteenth century.
Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney was organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, and supported by the Henry Luce Foundation; 1957 Charity Foundation; Mrs. J. Maxwell (Betty) Moran; Mr. Ranney Moran; the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Wyoming Arts Council, through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wyoming State Legislature. Additional support was provided by The Kathleen C. and John J. F. Sherrerd Fund for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.