Artist Spotlight: William Bruce Ellis Ranken
BY Christopher Harrity
December 14 2013 6:00 AM ET
Pipe Practice, 1918
Well-born and educated at Eton, and eventually Slade, Ranken had an idyllic childhood living in vast estates in both Scotland and England.
In 1907 he moved to Chelsea. This put Ranken in the milieu of the Edwardian aesthetes. Gay photographer Baron De Meyer and his wife, Olga, became close friends. He was mentored by gay artist John Singer Sargent.
Of the artist's many patrons and friends, many were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Some of those included composer Cole Porter; writer Violet Keppel Trefusis, the lover of Vite Sackville-West; Anne Morgan, daughter of the famous financer; decorator Elsie de Wolfe, Morgan's lover; the dynamic literary agent Elizabeth Marbury, also de Wolfe's lover; Henry Davis Sleeper, the collector; life-long companion and friend, actor Ernest Thesiger, who married Ranken's sister Janette at his behest; and most significantly, William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, and his middle son, the Honorable Hugh Lygon, the model for Sebastian Flyte, the catalyst in Evelyn Waugh's most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited.
Ranken's life of high social stature and privilege was reflected in his many portraits of the beautiful ladies of grand society. Ranken's name is little-known today. Only one of his paintings is on permanent public display in the U.K., (Olga Alberta, Baroness de Meyer, painted in Venice in 1907), which can be found at Leeds Museums and Galleries.
Was Ranken openly or explicitly gay? Almost no one was at the time. As with Sargent and Henry James, this is still up for debate in some circles. We feel confident when we view his work that Ranken was a man of the world and aware of his own nature.
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