Lines and Colors art blog

Thomas Moran
Though he was considered part of the Hudson River School of artists, it was for his evocation of the drama of the landscape in the western United States that Thomas Moran is best known.

His watercolor location sketches of the landscape in Wyoming (image above, 4th down), along with photographs by William Henry Jackson, were instrumental in convincing Congress to create the first U.S. national park at Yellowstone.

Born in England, his family emigrated to the U.S. to an area near (now part of) Philadelphia in 1844 when Moran was 7. He started his art career as an apprentice in an engraving firm, quitting to join his brother Edward who was already established as an artist. He painted landscapes in the area around PHiladelphia (image above, top: Tohickon Creek, Bucks County) and established a reputation as a landscape artist.

At one point, Moran had the opportunity to study in England, where he encountered the dramatic landscapes of J.M.W. Turner. They would remain an influence in Moran’s mature work, particularly in his seascapes.

Moran became an illustrator for magazines. An assignment for an article in Scribner’s Magazine led to his opportunity to chronicle the wild beauty of Yellowstone in the summer of 1871.

On his way to Yellowstone, Moran embarked from the train in Green River, where the otherworldly rocky landscape would become the subject of several future works, including the striking Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, painted in 1881 (image above, second from top). This painting was just acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, a gift of patrons.

Moran painted in many other places, areas of the Rocky Mountains, the grand Tetons (where Mt. Moran is now named for him), Europe, Florida and Long Island, where he later settled and painted many of his dramatic seascapes.

I particularly enjoy his beautiful series of luminescent views of Venice (above, bottom).

Moran’s paintings are large in scale, and the small images I’ve posted above don’t begin to do them justice. If you can’t visit a museum where you can see his work in person, at least look for some larger reproductions.

One of the best selections online is The Athenaeum (note links to three pages of thumbnails linked at top, click image on detail page for larger image). There is also a more quickly accessed selection on Wikimedia Commons. I’ve listed other resources below.

This book on Thomas Moran is well reviewed on Amazon, but I haven’t seen it myself; there is also a book of his Field Sketches.

[News of NGA acquisition via ArtDaily]


7 responses to “Thomas Moran”

  1. Greg Tatum Avatar
    Greg Tatum

    If you ever get a chance visit the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has the largest collection of Moran paintings. They are really worth seeing in person. The scale of the paintings is really breathtaking especially combined with the textures, composition, and amazing use of colors.

  2. Stunning selections, thanks a lot! I’d love to know the title, etc. of the first one; didn’t find it in the links you provided. Any ideas?

    Thanks again,

  3. Love Thomas Moran’s work, since I’m a big Turner fan myself. In some ways, looking at Thomas Moran is like seeing how Turner would interpret Western themes.

  4. I saw ‘Shoshone Falls on the Snake River’ when it was visiting the Portland Art Museum from the Gilchrist. Pretty amazing but I actually liked the watercolors they had along with it better. Similarities to traditional Chinese landscape painting.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I haven’t seen any of his watercolors in person.

  5. I just returned from a week in Washington, DC, where I saw several of Moran’s paintings. The National Gallery has quite a few, but the National Portrait Gallery has three very large format paintings in one hall – two of “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” and one of “The Chasm of the Colorado” – absolutely breathtaking.