Tonalist landscape and marine painter, Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916), became a full academician of the National Academy of Design in 1906 and bequeathed his entire residuary estate to the academy. The investment of this substantial gift of nearly $400,000, known as the Ranger fund, would provide for the purchase of paintings by living American artists, which were distributed or accessioned by the Smithsonian Institution's then National Collection of Fine Arts.
Ranger was born in western New York State and attended Syracuse University for two years before opening a studio in New York City in the mid-1880s. He traveled to Europe and lived in the Netherlands for several years, where he was influenced by the Dutch watercolorists and the Barbizon masters. Ranger was known for his experiments with pigments and colors, his interiors of forests, and marine views of the shoreline in Connecticut, where he spent summers and helped to establish the artist colony in Old Lyme. He further divided his time between a country studio in Noank, Connecticut, his studio in the city, and trips to Puerto Rico and Jamaica in the winter months.
Following his death in 1916, Ranger's will was probated and involved in costly litigation for two years due to the presentation of another will asserting Ranger's sister, Edith, as the beneficiary. The second will was proven to be false and the Ranger fund went on to make a significant contribution to the Smithsonian's collection of American art, allowing the institution to ultimately claim sixty-six of the paintings purchased by the fund and amass a collection which represented popular academic tastes in American art over more than half a century.