Looking back Famed American 19th century painter called North Hudson home
by : Nicolas Millan Reporter staff writer
Apr 15, 2008 | 1178 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Through a 21st century lens, it might be difficult to think that downtown Union City was once a rural, marshy scene; yet, over 150 years ago, this was the landscape of what was known then as West Hoboken.

The marshes of 12th Street and Palisade Avenue were also home to William Ranney, one of North Hudson's most famous artists.

His 14-room estate existed where the current five-story apartment building at 1215 Palisade Avenue rests.

"Ranney loved the area," said Ranney Moran, a descendant of Ranney named after his great-great-grandfather. "He moved specifically to escape the hustle and bustle of [New York City] and to a have a big studio."

Once a resident of North Hudson, William Ranney settled in West Hoboken in 1851 to pursue his passion of painting while duck hunting and fishing in his spare time.

His paintings reflect many different genres including snapshots of everyday life and Western themes - topics for which he is renowned. Moran noted that Ranney also enjoyed rail bird hunting and horseback riding, so much that he maintained a horse stable on his estate.

His entire real estate holdings encompassed Palisade to New York avenues and 12th to 13th streets.

A revered painter of Western, sporting, and everyday sceneries, Ranney died in his Union City home in 1857 from tuberculosis at the age of 44, said Tony Squire, a member of the Union City Historical Society.

Inspired by the West

Ranney was born in Connecticut in 1813 and moved to Brooklyn in 1833 to study painting; however, in 1836 after learning of the Texas War of Independence, Ranney volunteered to fight.

Moran said that after Ranney stayed in West Columbia, Texas for a brief while, he returned to Brooklyn in 1837, and a year later publicly exhibited his works for the first time at the National Academy of Design in New York City.

His paintings of Western sceneries were drawn from memories. The sceneries often depicted the Rocky Mountains, pioneers, hunters, explorers, and more.

These paintings are highly prized by a select group of art connoisseurs who collect Western and early American art.

According to Moran, 60 percent of Ranney's paintings are in museums such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Ranney's fame resulted from his depiction of early American life. His paintings captured the essence of the West before it was largely settled by Americans.

Among art history scholars, Ranney is regarded as one of the most important painters before the Civil War. Over the course of his 20-year career, he produced 150 paintings and 80 drawings. Less than 30 of his works are Western themed, and yet those few brought him national recognition, said Moran.

In 1847, Ranney moved to Weehawken and continued painting. Four years later, the artist moved to Union City where he built his estate.

During his stay in North Hudson, Ranney befriended many famous artists and residents of the era including Col. John Stevens III, the man responsible for providing the first ferry system between New York and Hoboken and one of Hoboken's founding fathers, said Moran.

Escape from the city

"He was an outdoors person," said Moran. "He wanted to get out of city and he found somewhere he could paint and enjoy peace."

In addition to riding, hunting, and painting, Ranney was one of the founding fathers of the New York Cricket Club. Ranney played cricket throughout his residency in North Hudson and was considered one of the top scorers for the club.

Charles Peverelly's "The Book of American Pastimes" notes that the team would often play in Hoboken's Fox Hill, currently Columbus Park, and the high school football field between Ninth and 11th streets on Grand Street in Hoboken, according to Bob Foster, director of the Hoboken Historical Museum.

The 44-year-old painter and outdoorsman was a registered member of the cricket club until his death in 1857 resulting from tuberculosis, a common killer in the 19th century, according to former chair of Union City's Historical Society.

However, Ranney's legacy lives on through his great-great-grandson.

"I'm similar to [Ranney] in being an outdoorsman," said Moran, who wrote the prologue for "Forging an American Identity: The Art of William Ranney." He added, "I'm very proud of him. It's a great part of American history and American painters. It's an interesting time and period of life."

Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.
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