In most histories of American art Thomas Moran has, for the most part, been relegated to the ranks of the “also-rans;” rarely does he rate more than a few lines. Coming as he did on the heels of Church and Bierstadt, Moran was by no means a trail-blazer in the Grandiose School. While his canvases, unique in their treatment of the natural wonder of the Far West, once graced both the nation's Capitol and the horsehair interiors of the wealthy, their images were until recently too well known to retain their excitement. To display a taste for American Romanticism was considered chauvinistic.Moran, like the century in which he lived, was enamored of nature and the wild. Born in England in 1837, he subsequently became one of America's most celebrated landscape artists. His fame rests on his good fortune in having been one of the first visual recorders of the wonders of Yellowstone and Yosemite, a task to which he, the American “Turner,” was ideally suited. His colorism is the trait for which he is best remembered.Our landscape of 18681
was painted in the East a year after a European voyage and three years before his first trip to the canyons. It is number thirty-three of a series of forty-two canvases painted between 1863 and 1868 which were considered by Moran to be his most important works of the period. In the course of painting the works of this opus he wrote, “. . .[I] decided that my forte lay in color and would prove my strongest point.”2
Our painting is typically multi-hued. Besides celebrating the palette of nature in a manner prophetic of later works, this canvas romances the virgin countryside, now all but gone, as only Moran's generation could. Begun in December of 1867 and finished in January of the following year, it typifies the artist's method of working up sketches during the winter which he had made in the field from life the summer before. Moran was an ardent and expert watercolorist, and his preliminary studies were more than ample aide-memoires
to the completion of works of this complexity.In his long life, Thomas Moran remained true to his love of landscape. His paeans to nature move us anew to respect that which, only with increasing difficulty, we may appreciate outside museum walls.Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- 68.82. Frances E. Andrews Wilderness Fund. Oil on canvas, 30” x 45”.
- Thurman Wilkins, Thomas Moran of the Mountains (Norman, Oklahoma, 1966), p. 44
- Thomas Moran. American, 1837-1926. A Scene on the Tohickon Creek: Autumn. Oil on canvas, 30” x 45”. The Frances E. Andrews Wilderness Fund, 68.82.