Thomas Moran 1837 —1926
Regarded as the primary artist of the final decades of Western exploration, Thomas Moran made eight trips West between 1871 and 1892 and created a body of oil and watercolor sketches that remain a primary record of that period. In fact, his painting was so associated with the West that he was referred to as T. Yellowstone Moran. In 1873, he began signing his name with a monogram that incorporated "Y" into his initials, and from 1911, he added a thumbprint.
He was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and his father was a hand-loom weaver. In 1844, his family emigrated to Philadelphia where in 1853, he apprenticed to a wood engraving firm and sketched designs on blocks. He also studied with his older brother, Edward, a marine and historical painter, whose studio he shared.
In 1860, he made his first trip heading west, going to Lake Superior. Shortly after, he and Edward went to England where both brothers were heavily influenced by copying paintings of landscapist J.M.W. Turner. In 1866 and 1867, he returned to Europe and studied the tonalist painting style of Corot and did studies of Venice.
Returning to Philadelphia in the summer of 1862, Moran married Mary Nimmo, a former student and later a successful etcher. During the next few years he continued to exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy in addition to working as an illustrator for various periodicals. He also taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. In 1866, he made a second trip to Europe, visiting England, France and Italy.
In 1871 at age 34, he began the subject matter that challenged him for the remainder of his life. He traveled West with geologist F.V. Hayden on the Hayden Survey to the Grand Canyon and the Yellowstone River. Returning he moved his studio to Newark, New Jersey, and began doing huge panoramic paintings from his sketches.
In 1872, he sketched in Yosemite and other parts of California, and in 1873, explored the Grand Canyon with Major Powell's survey team. The United States Congress bought two paintings from these trips for $10,000 each. From 1881 to 1911, he traveled nearly every year, often in the West, and also painted in Florida and Europe.
From 1878 until 1922, Thomas Moran summered in East Hampton. Indeed, his biographer Thruman Wilkins reported, "he devoted a greater number of paintings to the region than to any other single place except Venice and its environs," though, we associate Moran with images of the great American West. Known for walking miles every day, Moran found a wealth of inspiration on his roams across the countryside. Particular locales that he returned to time and time again were, Sassafras Hill, Appaquogue, Three Mile Harbor, Five Mile River and Fresh Ponds.
Thomas Moran was the center of the artistic community in East Hampton. In sketching the green meadows, the rolling dunes and the reedy ponds Moran captured the qualities of this especially beautiful area which was heralded as a "new Barbizon;" so dubbed by the growing coterie of artist-residents of East Hampton and vicinity. After a number of summers as a renter, Moran built "The Studio" in East Hampton where he invited artists to gather for social events. His involvement with the community went further and he was active with the community at large, helping to found the Tennis Club and the Maidstone Club.
Moran enjoyed the verdant qualities of the East Hampton landscape, as Summer, East Hampton demonstrates. He found the richness of the tones stimulating. There were those of his contemporaries who were repelled by the pervasive greeness of the terrain. William Merritt Chase, ventured into town on a trip with the Tile Club and found East Hampton "too green to paint," and promptly departed.
In Summer, East Hampton, Moran emphasized the rich green tone of a broad velvety meadow gracefully edged by elms and silver poplars. A silvery stream running through the landscape is bordered by soft reeds and wildflowers that Moran painted with thin, long, fluid strokes that convey their gently movement and feathery quality. The stream is crossed by a picturesque wooden bridge, its function in the landscape made clear by the figures at the water's edge who lazily enjoy an afternoon of fishing. Adding to the scene's peaceful feeling, we can detect a group of cows resting under a shady grove of trees in the tight background, while two figures pass under a naturally arched arbor nearby, Soft cumulous clouds float gently in the sky, complying with the tranquil nook of the landscape below. The serene quality of the painting sums up Moran's experience of the East Hampton country side.
In 1916, he settled in Santa Barbara, California where he died ten years later, having spent the later part of his life painting from sketches he made from earlier travels. His popularity never declined, and he was an active artist well into his 80s. By the time of his death, many of his favorite painting areas were protected in national park land.
Although he is credited as a great documentary painter, he did not intend his paintings to be literal records of what he saw. He was committed to mysticism, a personal spiritual vision that caused him to find inspiration in nature. He said: "All my tendencies are toward idealization. A place as a place has no value in itself for the artist" (Samuels "Encyclopedia"). On his deathbed, at age 90, he envisioned on his ceiling future landscapes to paint and expressed ongoing disapproval of modernist, abstract art.
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View synoptic biography below.
Montauk Sunset: Overlooking Gardiners Bay to Gardiners Island, from Ft Pond
3.25 x 4.5 inches
MUSEUM COLLECTIONS - Selected
Addison Gallery of American Art
Art Institute of Chicago
Butler Institute of American Art
Carnegie Museum of Art
Cleveland Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Crocker Art Museum
Cummer Museum of Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Denver Art Museum
De Young Memorial Museum
Everson Museum of Art
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard College
Georgia Museum of Art
Hunter Museum of American Art
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mead Museum of Art
Mobile Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Bostons
Museum of Fine Arts - Houston
Museum of Fine Arts - St Petersburg
National Gallery of Art
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Newark Museum of Art
New Britain Museum of American Art
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Phoenix Art Museum
Portland Museum of Art
John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art
Rhode Island Museum of Design Museum
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
Seattle Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Speed Museum of Art
Spencer Museum of Art
St Louis Museum of Art
Toledo Museum of Art
University of Arizona Museum of Art
Worcester Art Museum
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