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A young Ranken 

Studio 14 Cheltenham Terrace, Chelsea, London

William Bruce Ellis Ranken (1881-1941)
Scottish born portrait painter


From: Wendy & Gordon Hawksley
<g w @  whawksley. fsnet. co.uk> 

"William Bruce Ellis Ranken was born in Edinburgh in 1881, the second son of Robert Burt Ranken, a prosperous lawyer, and his wife Mary. He was educated at Eton and The Slade School of Art under Henry Tonks. He had his first one man exhibition at the Carfax Gallery, London in 1904, a gallery much favoured by Sargent at that time. Moving in the circles of Edwardian aesthetes, it is known that he was well acquainted with Sargent by 1908 and Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn. By 1914 he was living at 14 Cheltenham Terrace, Chelsea, a couple of minutes walk away from Sargent's studio in Tite Street. Unable to serve in the First World War due the effects of childhood polio, he subsequently went to America on a commission through Sargent. He had his first one man exhibition there in January 1916 at the Doll & Richards Gallery, Boston. Sargent introduced him to Isabella Stewart Gardner who acquired his watercolour 'In a Turkish Garden'. Later that same year he had a one man exhibition at the Galleries of M Knoedler & Co in New York and by this time had had commissions by other prominent Americans such as the Vanderbilts, Whitneys and Havemeyers, probably due to introductions effected by Sargent. 
A prolific artist, he worked equally in oil and watercolour and his work included portraits, interiors, landscapes and still life. His subjects included members of the British Royal Family and aristocracy. Throughout his life he travelled widely, with France being a particularly favourite destination. He exhibited at virtually all the major Galleries and Societies in Great Britain and became a Member of The National Portrait Society, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters, The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, The Royal Society Portrait Painters and The Pastel Society. By 1921, thanks to his success in America, he had acquired Warbrook House at Eversley in Hampshire, a substantial 18th century property and estate. He appears to have returned to America in the mid 1920's and had a one man exhibition of interiors at Wildenstein & Co., Inc. in New York in January 1931 and an exhibition of portraits at Knoedler & Co, New York in late 1933. Affected by the Depression, he returned to England, was forced to sell his beloved Warbrook and moved to the south wing of the nearby Farley Hill Place, another prominent English country house, the home of one of his sisters who had married into the family of the Earls of Elgin and Kincardine.
Like Sargent, Ranken was unmarried. He died suddenly in London in 1941 and was buried in the churchyard at Eversley. In January 1943 his American patrons and friends, who had included people such as Mrs. Lars Anderson, Mrs. Otto Kahn, Mrs. Dave Hennen Morris, Miss Anne Morgan, Elsie de Wolfe and Mrs Ector Munn, organised a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Ferargil Galleries in New York. The contents of his studios in New York and London, about 100 works, were not dispersed until 1946 when, according to his wishes, they were distributed to provincial art galleries in Great Britain by his sister, Janette who had married Ranken's lifelong friend, the actor Ernest Thesiger who had had his portrait drawn by Sargent in about 1911. Despite a very active life in society and artistic circles, Ranken's name is scarcely known today and this is possibly reflected in the very sad fact that only one of his paintings is on public display in Great Britain, his 'Olga Alberta, Baroness de Meyer' (painted in Venice in 1907) at Leeds City Art Gallery." 


From: Wendy & Gordon Hawksley 
g w @ whawksley .fsnet.co.uk
Date:  Thu, 13 Jul 2000 19:19:08 +0100 

 . . . I am currently researching the life and work of the Scottish born portrait painter, William Bruce Ellis Ranken (1881-1941), who was "a close friend of John Singer Sargent" and I am anxious to find out whether there is indeed any evidence of this friendship from any JSS correspondence or records [Evidence Found]. I should like to write to you with a number of enclosures and so should be most grateful if you could let me have your postal address. Incidentally, I live in Sheffield, England which is the home of one of JSS's great works, "The Misses Vickers" which is housed at The Mappin Art Gallery and was the subject of an interesting exhibition here on the occasion of the centenary of the painting in 1984

Date:  Sun, 17 Sep 2000  

Many many thanks indeed for your e-mail of 18 July 2000(!). I was amazed to see that you had kindly posted my e-mail on your JSS website. Have had no responses yet, but at least William Bruce Ellis Ranken is now lodged in people's minds. No, I'm not a paid researcher, just an enthusiast of the work of WBER consequent upon buying a few years ago a painting of an unknown lady by an unknown artist. The signature on the painting was totally unreadable but the National Portrait Gallery in London recognised it as the monogram of Ranken and so this then lead me on a long quest to find out more about this little known artist and to try to identify the sitter - the latter task alas still not achieved, despite extensive research, both here and in the USA. [It has since been identified as Mrs Edwin D Morgan Jr.]

Any JSS link with Ranken will not increase the value of the painting but may give me some vital clues as to Ranken's American contacts and patrons. I am sending you in the post copies of correspondence I have had with Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, together with some basic information about Ranken I have compiled myself. I am also sending you a copy of the booklet issued by Sheffield City Art Galleries, written by James Hamilton, on the Centenary of the painting by JSS entitled "The Misses Vickers". I hope you find it of interest. 

Kind Regards, 

Wendy Hawksley.

From Natasha 
Date: October 1, 2000

Dear Wendy,

I’m in recite of the book on “The Misses Vicker” and your research on Ranken, just came today. The Misses Vicker book is fantastic and I found some really good information in there which I hope to add to my Sargent pages (working on so many things right now it has me pulled in about 20 different directions). Every bit of what you sent on Ranken I found fascinating (nothing like a good mystery to get my interest).

I don’t know if I can help any further than what Elaine Kilmurray did in her letter. Though I might be able to shed a bit of color to one of these “black and white” names (let me excerpt a bit of Kilmurray’s letter)

Vanderbelts aside, the names in your enclosed list of portraits and photocopies which suggest some connection with Sargent are: 

1) Marbouroughs 
2) Mrs. Dave Hennen Morris (on Ferargil photocopy). She was Alice Vanderbelt Shepard, whom Sargent painted in 1888 
3) Was the Archbishop of Canterbury whom Ranken painted Randall Davidson)? [image n/a]

Let me excerpt from the page you sent -- 1943 Feragil Galleries booklet
    Raken (of Eton and London University) studied art at the Slade School, a fellow pupil of Augustus John, he came first to America on a commission through his close friend John Singer Sargent. His most famous works are of the Spanish cathedrals; the series in England for the Ducke of Marlborough – interiors of “Blenheim”; and “Windsor Castle”. He painted many portraits, notably the portrait of Queen Mary; Baroness d’Erlanger; Dame Nellie Melba; Earl and Countess Beauchamp and family; Marchioness of Carisbroke. He was acclaimed as “a fine technician of delightful color, a sensitive artists.” He was a mural painter of merit, but most of all the world claimed his interiors of fine rooms; the fountains of famous castles – Versailles, Madrid. Personally he was a kind man that all society liked, high and low, royal or peasant. Not only was he an artist but he was a friend.

From: Wendy & Gordon Hawksley
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 

its been a while since we were in contact with you......but we now have some interesting news .... thanks to your posting information  . . . on your site we have had an enquiry from Reading Art Gallery (in England) asking us for information about Ranken. 

Evidence connecting John Singer Sargent
As a separate matter, we have evidence of Sargent / Ranken connections:
We have recently been in contact with a Lady who is researching the life and work of Roger Quilter (1877 - 1953, an English composer). She has provided us with a copy of a letter written by Rose Grainger (the Mother of Percy Grainger - an Australian composer) to Quilter dated 22 January 1908 

    " Last Sunday Baron de Meyer (Percy's pupil) [came] and played Debussy's "Printemps" & Faure's "Melusine" for 2 pianos  which was jolly - Sargent & sister, Baroness de Meyer, Mrs Wodehouse, Biegel & Borie, Ernest [Thesiger], Ranken, Mrs Colefax, Mrs Allen, etc etc....came and we wished you were with us."
2.    In Ranken's scrapbook there is a reproduction of a painting entitled 'Lifeguards' that Ranken exhibited at the Modern Society of Portrait Painters in London in 1914. Beside it he has written 
    'The picture was not exhibited exactly in this state, as, after a criticism by Mr Sargent I re-painted seven of the faces and made some other alterations.'
Out of interest we've also copied an extract from another letter from Rose to Quilter mentioning Sargent:
3 December 1906 - 
    "Tonight we are dining with the Harrison's with Sargent and his sister, whom we met last week, looking splendid after his long holiday abroad. I think he is a dear creature."
- Kind Regards,

 Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002  

Attached are the four images representing the diversity of Ranken's work which you may like to use with the Ranken biography  . . .
We would like to be able to give you a better idea of his portrait work, but Ranken's work is rarely reproduced now and the only images of the Ranken paintings held by the public art galleries here in Britain tend to be nothing more than black and white photos ............so we need to get access to each painting and take our own photograph of it is immensely difficult and time consuming

We will continue to try !

Sun, 16 Feb 2003 

We have a couple of updates which we think will interest you. Firstly, Ranken's extended family have been very helpful in this research as they have allowed us access to some of his records and family photographs etc which they have inherited. We have derived some of the most interesting information (partly in terms of finding works which we were not necessarily aware of previously) from a rather large number of press cuttings taken from English newspapers (dating from around 1904 to 1916) which Ranken kept in a scrap book to record his works at exhibition. A few of these press cuttings also discuss Sargent's works. Please see the details below (unfortunately one or two of these press reviews are rather scathing);
Morning Post     15 November 1909        
Exhibition at the Society of Portrait Painters   

    "......There are other excellent works well worth seeing either because of the subject, or the artist, or both, such as "Lady Tree," by Sir Phillip Burne-Jones, who, is not sufficiently appreciated, being over-shadowed by a parental mandorla ; the "Jefferson" by Mr. Sargent (No. 95) ; "Miss Barbara Glynne" (No. 96) by Mr. Francis Howard ; the "Mrs Brown-Potter" (No. 195), by Mr. W. Ranken. Both examples of Watts are unusually poor."
Daily Express     27 May 1910        
Exhibition entitled 'A Dream of Fair Women' - at Oldham Art Gallery (?)
    ".........In the centre gallery Mr W. Ranken carries of the honours among the younger painters with his imaginative portrait of Mrs. Brown Potter, her auburn hair vividly contrasting with her black velvet dress and fur busby. Degas' ballet dancers, Sargent's crayon portraits of Lady Eden and Mme Blanche Marchesi, and two decorative Beardsleys in the end gallery should also not be missed."
The Queen     25 June 1910        
Exhibition entitled 'A Dream of Fair Women' - at Oldham Art Gallery (?)
    ".........Black is also painted with much cleverness. This is shown in Sargent's picture of Mrs Mathias, in G W Philpot's of Mrs Emile Mond, and in W. B. Ranken's of Mrs Brown Potter."
Manchester Courier     17 October 1910        
Exhibition entitled 'A Dream of Fair Women' - at Oldham Art Gallery (?)
    "........If not exactly a "dream of fair women," the outstanding portraits are of women, and technical skill of high quality is seen in Sargent's "Mrs W. G. von Glehn" ; "Miss Dorothy Twine" by Richard Jack ; the beautiful "Lady in Black" of Harrington Mann ; "Miss Anne Ranken" by W. B. Ranken ; ........."
[Editor's note - Don't know exactly which Sargent de Glehn painting this is but he painted her often (go to)]
Western Press     11 October 1910        
Exhibition at the Royal Institute of Painters in Oil Colours
    "...........If Mr St. George Hare's "Critics" - three pur-blind lay figures, with attributes such as a parrot-head - represents the general opinion of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters on the subject of art-criticism, there is no cause for surprise in the policy which places the private view of the exhibition day earlier than the Press view. But since Mr St. George Hare's co-members do not deserve, and have not, therefore, obtained, better than he at the hands, or pens, of the art-critics, one may wonder at the continuance of so timid a device for ensuring the unbiased opinion of purchasers. Mr Sargent, for instance, and Mr Glyn Philpot, and Mr W. B. Ranken, and Mr Lavery, to say nothing of the group of landscapists whose work is always a feature of the exhibition - do they associate themselves with the point of view of Mr St. George Hare ?

    Mr Sargent may, indeed, be aware that his portrait of the Marchioness of Drouro is no masterpiece [n/a], there is more trick than vitality in its superficial brilliance, and that the carnation red with which the sash , the lips, warm lights and in the flesh and the painter's signature are all indiscriminately touched, does not do all that is necessary to give interest to the colour-scheme. Mr Philpot and Mr Ranken are young men, with no such reputation as has Mr Sargent, and it is doubtless because he has not wholly given himself to the painting of the bright and pretty figure of his sitter that the work of the younger men has chief importance in the gallery........"

Illustrated London News      4 November 1911
    "........In pause from portraiture-one of the few things in which he might have been successfully imitated - Mr Sargent has not been followed by his followers. His part has been filled, not by one, but by a dozen understudies, and we are accustomed to the marring, at second hand, of his mannerisms. Bungling with a splendid bag of tricks is the only result of the attempt to produce portraits of Mr. Sargent's kind ; more success, perhaps, attends the repetition of his performance in water-colour. Mr Ranken's drawings at Goupil suggested that a master's example had given courage to a new class of talent, and Mr. von Glehn's exhibition now confirms the impression. Admirers of Mr Sargent's own water-colour, inimitable in its ultimate power, will welcome the publication of one of his drawings of Santa Maria della Salute. Prints in colour, passed by the artist's own exacting eye , will be shortly issued by Messrs. Chenil and Co., the publishers of the drawings of Mr John and Mr Orpen."
Daily News     11 June 1915        
Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy
    "........Still, mention must be made of the well known "Duchess of Sutherland" - she of abnormal height - by Mr. Sargent ; the highly attractive "Princess Mary" by Mr. Shannon - a sweet, unaffected portrait ; Mr. W. B. Ranken's challenging rendering of "The Lady Maud Hoare"....."
[and Seven reviews of the June 1916 
Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters at the Grafton Galleries

From: Wendy & Gordon Hawksley
Date: Sep 18, 2005

Out of interest, we have just put a few nominal pages on our artist William Bruce Ellis Ranken on the web under www.williamranken.org .

Best Wishes,
Wendy & Gordon 


Sampling of works
by Raken

Woman on a Balcony
Private collection
46 x 44 cm 
Signed   Dated 1915

Bribery & Corruption
Circa 1915
Private collection
103 x 76 cm

Flash Emma
Circa 1914
Private Collection

Salon de la Paix, Versailles
Oil on Board
Signed  Dated 1927

Mrs Edwin D Morgan Jr.


By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2005 all rights reserved
Created 7/13/2000