Veterans of 1776 Returning from the War


William Tylee Ranney ( American, 1813 - 1857 )

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General Description

William Tylee Ranney celebrates the exuberance of the end of battle in this lively scene of Revolutionary War veterans returning home to take up their lives in a new republic. More recent events also mark this canvas; the United States' War with Mexico from 1846 to 1848 was the nation's first foreign conflict since the Revolution and prompted a remarkably high level of patriotic fervor linking the two wars. In paintings, books, and songs, parallels were drawn between the wars of 1776 and 1846, inspired undoubtedly by hopes that this war would turn out as well as the last. By February 1848 fighting had ceased; however, the United States waited until July 4, 1848 to declare the War officially over.

In Veterans of 1776 Returning from the War, Ranney took great care to weave together allusions to both conflicts. Painted at the close of the war and exhibited in June 1848, the painting marks the jubilation and relief felt by the entire country. The former soldiers' cart bears the names of five major Revolutionary War battles: Bunker Hill, Trenton, Monmouth, Saratoga, and Yorktown. Their horse, however, bears a U.S. brand obviously not in use during the revolution, but which did appear on Army remounts in 1846. Ranney's audience would have noticed this subtle blending of past and present and appreciated the reference to both wars.

North Carolinian Ranney had firsthand experience of a different war with Mexico. In 1836, just days after the fall of the Alamo, Ranney traveled to New Orleans to enlist in the army of the Republic of Texas. After serving as paymaster for a year, he returned to the northeast, where he established himself as an artist in New York and New Jersey. In this painting his particular brand of history painting might best be termed anecdotal, in which the subject is the anonymous common man rather than identifiable historical figures. The artist paints the incidents of daily life, linked to specific historic circumstances. The volunteers, who formed the backbone of the armies of both 1776 and 1846 are here celebrated for their patriotism rather than their exploits; Ranney has chosen to express the celebration of their return to private life rather than present the gory climax of victorious battle to make his point.

Adapted from

  • DMA electronic record (1982.35), nd.

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, "William Tylee Ranney's 'Veterans of 1776 Returning from the War,'" in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 227.

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA Label copy (1981.40), May 2006.

Fun Facts

  • The artist's brief military service in Texas is reflected in both the subjects he chose to paint and the collections where his work is represented. Several other major paintings by William Tylee Ranney are in Texas, at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, and the Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin.

  • The date of this work also has international parallels. In 1848, a year in which revolutions rocked Europe, paintings such as this celebrated America's stability as a republic and its influence upon the formation of other nation-states.

Web Resources

  • William Tylee Ranney
    Read Linda Ayres's biography of the artist on Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas.