Paintings of Frontier Life, Historical Scenes on View in Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney

Release date: 
November 7, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas --- A major exhibition of beautiful oil paintings that depict vivid scenes of western expansion in the context of American culture and history in the decade prior to the Civil War will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum from Feb. 17--May 13, 2007. Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney will present the work of one of the most important American genre artists of the first half of the 19th century, a period when America was establishing its identity as a nation. Ranney’s powerful interpretations of adventures on the western prairies and plains were highly popular in their day. The works evoke concepts of an emerging national character, revealed not only through depictions of life on the frontier but also in penetrating portraits of ordinary people, lively scenes of daily life, dramatic sporting scenes, and ambitious history paintings that sought to interpret the nation’s past in the context of current events. The Amon Carter Museum is the only venue in the Southwest for this exhibition, the first comprehensive overview of this significant artist’s work in over 40 years. Following its display at the Carter, the exhibition will travel to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Visitors to the Amon Carter Museum are very familiar with William Ranney’s large history painting, Marion Crossing the Pedee,” said Rick Stewart, senior curator of western painting and sculpture at the Amon Carter Museum. “Few people have seen many of the other large and equally beautiful paintings that this remarkable artist created; besides the Revolutionary War, his subjects included the exploits of Daniel Boone, the trials of emigrant life on the Oregon Trail, and the joys of fishing and hunting at a time when such recreational sports were coming in to their own. Although Ranney had only a brief career, he left a terrific body of work that illuminates antebellum American life.”

During his lifetime, William T. Ranney (1813--1857) figured prominently in the developing American art scene. As a young man he served as a volunteer in the Texas war for independence, participating in the Battle of San Jacinto. After that formative experience on the evolving American frontier, he turned full time to art. He exhibited with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the American Art-Union and the National Academy of Design, garnering high marks for his paintings. Unfortunately, Ranney’s career was cut short by tuberculosis, to which he succumbed at the age of 44. Ranney’s accomplished and vivid works are today considered among the finest examples of American genre painting, yet the work of his contemporaries---such as George Caleb Bingham and William Sidney Mount---have received much more attention. This landmark exhibition elevates William Ranney’s art to their level of achievement.

More than 50 paintings, many from private collections, will be featured in the exhibition. It will be organized according to the broad themes of Ranney’s art: portraiture, genre subjects, sporting scenes, history paintings, and depictions of American frontier life. The exhibition will also include a number of the artist’s studies for some of the major works.

The curator for the exhibition is Dr. Sarah E. Boehme, formerly the curator of the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Center, now the director of the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas. The exhibition is largely the result of research conducted by noted art historians Peter Hassrick, former director of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and Linda Bantel, former director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In collaboration with Ranney Moran, the artist’s great-great grandson, Hassrick and Bantel have compiled a catalogue raisonné of Ranney’s work that is included in the extensive and well-illustrated publication that accompanies the exhibition.

Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney was organized by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and is supported in part by generous contributions from: The Henry Luce Foundation; 1957 Charity Foundation; Mrs. J. Maxwell (Betty) Moran; Mr. Ranney Moran; The National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art; The Wyoming Arts Council, through funding from the NEA and the Wyoming State Legislature; and Wells Fargo.

About the Artist

William Ranney painted evocative scenes of everyday life, known as genre paintings, as well as historical subjects and portraiture. He was born in Middletown, Conn., in 1813, but by age 13 was living in Fayetteville, N.C. While apprenticed to a tinsmith, Ranney began to develop his interest in art. Six years later he moved to New York, where he studied painting and drawing and began his artistic career. In early 1836, Ranney volunteered in the war for Texas independence, and his experience became the wellspring for his later western scenes. He returned to the New York area in 1837 and began to submit pieces to the National Academy of Design and then to the American Art-Union. He eventually settled with his wife and two sons in West Hoboken, N.J. He outfitted his painter’s studio with western gear, and there he created many of his most important works. At the height of his career, Ranney contracted tuberculosis and died on November 18, 1857.

Public Programs

Admission is free.

Saturday, February 17, 10:30 a.m.
Anne Burnett Tandy Distinguished Lectures
On the opening day of the exhibition Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney, two noted Ranney scholars will address different aspects of the artist’s work.

William Ranney: American Patriot, Sportsman, Artist
Linda Bantel, Project Director, William Ranney Catalogue Raisonne
Bantel will begin the morning by discussing important new discoveries that place Ranney’s work within the larger context of America’s artistic, social and political environments of the mid-nineteenth-century.

William Ranney’s Mountain Requiem
Peter H. Hassrick, Director of the Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum
Hassrick lectures on Ranney’s paintings of the legendary trapper and mountain man, which helped create one of America’s most enduring, iconic heroic figures.

This series of lectures on American art, culture, and society by distinguished individuals is made possible by a generous gift from the late Anne Burnett Tandy.

Reservations are required; seating is limited. Please call 817.989.5030 to register; confirmation will be sent.

Sunday, March 25, 1 to 4 p.m.
Family Funday
Excellent Adventures in Art
Travel back in time to meet the people, places, and pets that lived in America more than 100 years ago. Then participate in fun hands-on activities that make the art come alive.

Family Fundays are made possible in part by Wortham-Fort Worth.

Thursday, April 12, 6 p.m.
Familiarizing the Past: The History Paintings of William Ranney
Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History, Texas Christian University
Learn how William Ranney’s representations of American history offered a new way of making the past more accessible to his mid-nineteenth-century audience. With his genre paintings, or scenes of everyday life, Ranney rendered history not as remote and idealized, but as familiar and real.

Exhibition Admission

Museum members: free
Adults: $6
Seniors 62 and over: $4
College students with ID card: $4
Youths 18 and under: free
Admission is free on Thursdays, 5--8 p.m.
Admission to the permanent collection is free.

Museum Hours

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
Closed Monday and major holidays.