Open main menu

William Bruce Ellis Ranken

Ranken photographed by Baron Adolph de Meyer, c. 1907
Portrait of Ernest Thesiger by Ranken, Manchester City Galleries
Warbrook House in Hampshire

William Bruce Ellis Ranken (1881 – 31 March 1941) was a British artist and Edwardian aesthete.[1] He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Robert Burt Ranken, a wealthy and successful lawyer, and his wife Mary. He attended Eton College and then proceeded to the Slade School of Art, under the tutelage of Henry Tonks.[2] A fellow student was the actor Ernest Thesiger, who became a lifelong friend; he was painted by Ranken in 1918,[3] and married Ranken's sister Janette Ranken in 1917.[4]

Ranken's first exhibition in 1904 at the Carfax Gallery (managed by John Fothergill and William Rothenstein) in London was well received by artists and art critics.[5] He befriended Wilfrid Gabriel de Glehn and John Singer Sargent. At the outbreak of World War I, Ranken was living at his studio in Chelsea, a short distance from Sargent's studio, with whom he may have ventured to America during the war years.[6]

Early successEdit

While in America, Sargent introduced him to Isabella Stewart Gardner, and he received commissions to paint portraits of the wealthy, including the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Havermeyers. His output became prodigious as he worked in watercolors, oils and pastels. Returning to Britain in the 1920s, he painted many portraits of the British royal family and the aristocracy, as well as the interiors of their homes.[7]

In France during the First World War as a distraction from the trenches, he collected and repaired historical pieces of embroidery for sale[8] with Ernest Thesiger who was invalided and, in 1917, married Ranken's sister, Janette Mary Fernie Ranken (1877-1970). In her biography of Thesiger's friend, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Hilary Spurling suggests that Thesiger and Janette wed largely out of their mutual adoration of Ranken, who shaved his head when he learned of the engagement.[9] On the other hand, it has been said that Janette Ranken was in love with Compton-Burnett's companion, Margaret Jourdain, a fellow Oxford student. Janette Ranken left Jourdain to marry Thesiger.[10]

Ranken purchased Warbrook House, Eversley, Hampshire, in 1918 after the success of his first visit to America. The maintenance and costs associated with the property proved to be too much in the depression of the early 1930s, and he was forced to give up his beloved house. Ranken died suddenly in London in 1941 and was buried near Warbrook, at St Mary (the church is off the A327 road, about 2 miles from the A30).

Public collectionsEdit

Following his unexpected death from a cerebral haemorrhage,[11] his sister Janette gifted over 200 works to be distributed amongst UK public galleries and museums.[12] Ranken's paintings are held in a large number of museum and public collections, including Southampton City Art Gallery, Portsmouth Museum, Bradford Museum, Reading Museum, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Northampton Museum, Derby Museum, Leeds City Museum, National Museums Northern Ireland, Glasgow Museums, City of Edinburgh Council and the Government Art Collection.[13]



  1. ^ HARRITY, CHRISTOPHER (14 December 2013). "Artist Spotlight: William Bruce Ellis Ranken".
  2. ^ "William Bruce E Ranken (1881-1941) RI Watercolour".
  3. ^ "William Bruce Ellis Ranken". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Modernist Journals Project". Brown University & The University of Tulsa. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  5. ^ "William Bruce Ellis Ranken - Biography". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Schwarz Gallery - William Bruce Ellis Ranken". Schwarz Philadelphia. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  8. ^ Hunter, Clare (2019). Threads of life : a history of the world through the eye of a needle. London: Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton). p. 46. ISBN 9781473687912. OCLC 1079199690.
  9. ^ Curtis, James (1998). James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters. Boston: Faber and Faber. p. 240. ISBN 0-571-19285-8.
  10. ^ McBRINN, JOSEPH. "'Nothing is more terrifying to me than to see Ernest Thesiger sitting under the lamplight doing this embroidery': Ernest Thesiger (1879 - 1961), 'Expert Embroiderer'" (PDF). Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  11. ^ "William Bruce Ellis Ranken - Biography". Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  12. ^ "William Bruce Ellis Ranken, Artist - Mortimer Fine Arts - Bridgnorth Shropshire". Archived from the original on 19 December 2014. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  13. ^ 70 paintings by or after William Bruce Ellis Ranken, Art UK. Retrieved 28 November 2013.