Object of the Week: Long Pond, by Henry Ward Ranger

Syracuse native Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) was primarily a self-taught artist. He likely learned the basics of image composition from his father, a successful portrait and landscape photographer, before enrolling in the newly founded College of Fine Arts at Syracuse University in 1873. After leaving school without a degree in 1875, Ranger worked in his father’s photography studio, retouching landscape negatives. Outside of work, he painted watercolor landscapes, first displaying his work at local businesses and then nationally in major cities, such as Boston and New York. In the 1880s and 1890s, Ranger traveled extensively in Europe, visiting France, England, and Holland several times over the years. He drew particular inspiration from the Barbizon School, a group of French landscape painters focused on Realism in art, and the Hague School, Dutch artists who primarily painted the flat landscape of their homeland. Ranger applied the techniques used by these European painters to scenes of the North American landscape, painting the countryside around New York City and the rural landscapes of New England. Returning from a trip abroad in 1899, Ranger left his apartment in New York City for a summer in the country. He chose to stay at the ancestral home of Florence Griswold, which Griswold had recently converted into a boardinghouse in order to help pay for the expenses associated with caring for her estate. Enchanted with the beautiful meadows, orchards, gardens, and streams found on the grounds of the Griswold house, Ranger painted en plein air (in the open air) for the entire summer. He returned to Griswold’s boardinghouse again the next year, bringing along several artist friends to enjoy both the scenery and the hospitality of “Miss Florence.” In this manner, Ranger established the Lyme Art Colony, which became one of the most important art colonies in the country and was active for several decades. While Long Pond is undated, Ranger likely painted the canvas sometime after 1900. By this time, serene and beautiful woodland scenes were some of Ranger’s favorite subjects, found around Old Lyme or further east in rural Connecticut, and he had firmly established himself as a Tonalist painter. With its limited color palette, atmospheric lighting, and contemplative mood, Long Pond exemplifies the Tonalist style. The Everson (then known as the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts) purchased Long Pond in 1912 as one of its first acquisitions after declaring that it would only collect work made by American artists. The Museum purchased the painting directly from Ranger, confirming its interest in American artists as well as its commitment to acquiring work from living artists, a major investment by a museum at the time. In celebration of the acquisition, the Museum hosted a dinner in Ranger’s honor at the Century Club of Syracuse in September of 1912. At the dinner, Ranger spoke about the importance of securing masterworks for the collection in order to stimulate a lasting public interest in the Museum.Long Pond is currently on display in Visions of America, on view through August 19, 2018. -Marcel Maria Pons, Curatorial Intern and Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant Image caption: Henry Ward Ranger, Long Pond, not dated, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase with funds from the Friends of American Art Fund, 12.137.2