|William Tylee Ranney — The Trappers Last Shot|
|The Trappers Last Shot
Published: New York c. 1855
Medium: Copper-plate engraving
Dimensions: 18 1/4 x 21 3/4 inches
Very good condition.
In 1855, William Tylee Ranney, the foremost artist of western subjects, engraved this landmark image, beautifully capturing the excitement and spirit of the American frontier. The Trapper's Last Shot shows a rugged frontiersman on horseback, holding his rifle as he twists to look behind him. The expression on his bearded face is alert and wary, his eyes wide, focused on an unseen point off to the left. He grips a rifle with both hands, suggesting that he has spotted an ominous sight, and the darkness of the clouds that frame him add to the sense of impending danger.
Ranney's decision to place the object of the trapper's intense gaze outside of the picture was a highly strategic, effective compositional device. It is left to the viewer's imagination to envision what has captured his attention with such force, rendering the scene all the more exciting and tense. In stark contrast to the setting, the trapper's horse stands motionless, knee-deep in a pond, its muscles tensed as though it is ready to take flight. The trapper, too, appears perfectly still, yet he is poised and ready for whatever is to come. It is a moment of silent tension. All elements of the composition work together in perfect harmony to convey the drama, the savage beauty, and the dangerous thrill represented by the West. Ranney was arguably the most successful artist to focus on the West, and The Trapper's Last Shot represents his most celebrated image within his favorite theme. To Ranney, trappers symbolized the spirit of American independence and ingenuity, and also the western wilderness, which was quickly disappearing in the face of encroaching civilization. Almost paradoxically, the trapper also represented American expansion and fulfillment of the country's Manifest Destiny.
William Ranney was born in the Northeast, but was inspired by a voyage to the Texas frontier that he made in 1836. That journey was in response to an eloquent plea by Texas governor Henry Smith, requesting aid in the struggle against the Mexican army. Like so many other East Coasters, Ranney was enthralled by the west, and did not hesitate to join the romantic, thrilling fight for Texan independence. Although he remained there less t han a yearm his experiences provided the inspiration for the most acclaimed images of the American West ever produced. Americans in the east remained fascinated by the West, and Ranney's images provided the perfect visuals for the popular conception of the spirit of the West. The artist did not merely reflect conceptions of the frontier, but he actually shaped them, giving the clearest picture ever offered to Americans hungry for such imagery.