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Henry Ward Ranger
Lyme Art Colony
(January 29, 1858–November 7, 1916)
In Lyme: 1899-1904
At the turn of the century, Henry Ward Ranger was recognized as one of the country’s leading artists and as one of the principal spokesmen for the Tonalist aesthetic in American art.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Ranger left for New York City after studying art at Syracuse University. While in New York he was exposed to French Barbizon art which highly influenced his own style. After his marriage in 1883, Ranger and his wife went to Europe so that he could study the Old Masters, and the French Barbizon painters in particular. In 1887, he traveled to Holland and became acquainted with The Hague School, a group of Dutch painters whose influence is reflected in Ranger’s painting “Dutch Harbor.”
Ranger spent his first summer in Old Lyme in 1899. The region’s large oaks, sunlit forests, and rocky pastures reminded him of barbizon and were well-suited for the woodland scenes that Ranger specialized in. Soon thereafter, Ranger attracted other artists to Old Lyme, becoming the founder and leader of an art colony that was often referred to as the “American Barbizon.”
In 1903, the artistic leadership of the colony passed to Childe Hassam and the dominant Old Lyme aesthetic changed from Tonalism to Impressionism. A years later, Ranger moved to Noank where he built a house and summer studio on Mason’s Island. Ironically, in later years, Ranger’s canvases showed an inclination toward Impressionism, with textured surfaces and vibrant colors.
From the 1890s until his death, Ranger also maintained a winter studio in New York and was a distinguished figure in the New York art world. He was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1901, and a full academician in 1906. At his death in 1916, Ranger left his entire estate to the National Academy of Design and the income from it was to be used to purchase works by living American artists for distribution to “art institutions in America.” To date, the Ranger Fund has placed about three hundred pictures in museums throughout the country.
Additional Reading: "Henry Ward Ranger and the Humanized Landscape" exhibition catalogue, Florence Griswold Museum, 1999.