The landscape painter Henry Ward Ranger was born in 1858 in Syracuse, New York. The son of a commercial photographer, he attended Syracuse University from 1873 to 1875. Self-taught and with little or no formal instruction, he began to paint watercolors. Ranger opened a New York City studio in the mid-1870s, and exhibited at the American Watercolor Society in 1881. Impressed by the Barbizon School landscapes and a Corot he saw in New York, the young artist went to Paris where he was attracted to the works of Millet, Theodore Rousseau, and Adolphe Monticelli; neither the detailed manner of Bastien le Page nor the new Impressionism were of interest to him. Deeply respectful of the old masters, Ranger improved his technical ability by copying paintings by Constable, Claude, and Hobemma at the Louvre. He spent several important formulative years in The Netherlands studying with the Hague School masters Joseph Israels, the Maris brothers, and Van Gogh's uncle, Anton Mauve, all artists that he admired for being "the lineal successors of the Barbizon School." He spent a considerable amount of time sketching with the group at North Laren, Holland.
Ranger returned to the United States in 1888, and settled in New York City. He began to exhibit at the National Academy of Design in 1887, and the Society of American Artists in 1890. In the summer of 1899 Ranger became one of the founders of the late Barbizon art colony at Old Lyme, Connecticut, that centered around the Florence Griswold house. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1901, and became a full academician in 1906. A nationalist who was committed to American art and artists, he bequeathed his entire estate to the academy, stipulating that the income be used to purchase paintings by living American artists. He further directed that these pictures were to be lent to any public American museum, and that the Smithsonian Institution could acquire any work it desired, if it did so between ten and fifteen years after an artist's death.
After his return from Europe, Ranger devoted his career to depicting the New England landscape in the conventional, naturalistic Barbizon manner. He specialized in depicting wooded forest interiors, usually verdant spring or golden autumn scenes, in which glimmering light filtered through the treetops. Occasionally he deviated from his Barbizon and Hague School predecessors by conceding to the Impressionist influence and using bright colors. A conservative who valued traditional methods, technical ability, and craftsmanship, his technique was noteworthy for its rich color harmonies, thickly applied and richly textured paint. Around the turn of the century he was influenced by the autumnal colors, soft forms, and poetic mood of George Inness's late landscapes. Although he never accepted pupils, Ranger was an influential figure who by 1906 was the acknowledged leader of the late Tonalist movement, and his autobiographical Art-Talks with Ranger (1914) became the movement's official statement of aesthetic purpose. He died in New York City in 1916. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Bromhead, Harold W. "Henry W. Ranger." International Studio 29 (July 1906): xxxiii-xliv.
Bell, Raley Husted. Art-Talks with Ranger. New York, 1914.
Henry Ward Ranger Centennial Exhibition, 1858-1958. Exh. cat. The National Academy of Design, New York, 1958.
Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 86-87.