Tag Archives: Hayden Expedition

The Grand Landscape Pt. 2: Thomas Moran

The second part of the grandscape troupe (of which there are more than two, really) features Thomas Moran. Moran was born in England but became one of the most identifiable and popular members of the Hudson River School. He started as an engraver but found it tedious, worked in watercolor, and later produced some oils on the same scale as the ones we saw with on the Albert Bierstadt post. He shared a studio with his marine artist brother Edward and became an illustrator for the popular magazine Scribner’s Monthly. 

Thomas Moran February 12, 1837-August 25, 1926

 Moran is one of those artists that resound with me for reasons beyond, but still directly related to, his art. Moran was part of Ferdinand Hayden’s Yellowstone Expedition for the USGS. Geology and the History of Science and expeditions are one of the reasons I have become so involved in and with art of the American West. Having spent my honeymoon in Yellowstone, Moran’s rendering of places I have seen make it even more fun. As well as understanding that he was first and foremost an artist, you must understand how essential his works were in helping establish Yellowstone as the national park we all know and love today.

The Golden Gate

 The images that Moran painted were not true representation of nature, but an amalgam of the best of what he had seen. He also had the added benefit of traveling and working with the expedition’s photographer William Henry Jackson. Essentially a realist with romantic tendencies Moran never painted a true transcription of Yellowstone, but moved the scene and stirred the emotions. The artist and the photographer worked together, the photographs setting the realism and the painting and color setting the romantic tone that sold the idea of the park to congress.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (6’x10′) 

 Moran was highly influenced by an earlier English painter J.M.W. Turner. Turner’s use of light is echoed in many of Moran’s oils if not his watercolors. Luckily Moran stopped just short of the full dissolution into pure light that marked Turner’s later work.

Joseph Mallord William Turner April/May 1775-December 19, 1851

The Dogona and San Giorgio Magiore  Turner-1834

Norham Castle at Sunrise Turner-1835

Rain, Steam, and Speed-Turner 1844

You can see how Moran captured Turner’s view of the importance of light without dissolving his paintings into just light. A useful adjustment for someone that was working with a western expedition trying to sell the west to congress for parks and to the public for tourism. Incidentally, there is a new biopic coming out this year (2014) that follows Turner’s turn to painting the purity of light. I was looking forward to it before I knew that Moran was influenced by Turner, now I think it might be even better.

Back to Moran. The photography and the art proved that the boiling mudpots, the geyers, the kaleidoscope of colors in the hot springs and mineral waters were far more than just the tall tales of the mountain men and trappers. In addition to helping establish the park Moran was more successful than Bierstadt at acquiring the coveted governmental patronage. Why did Moran succeed where Bierstadt floundered? They had both been on expeditions, and Moran did his best work when he was on his own, but it was the type of expedition that he went on that gave him a more trusted authority. Moran had been an expedition member on a USGS expedition, that is he was a commissioned United States Geological Survey Artist. Most of his work at one time or another hung in the Department of the Interior of the United States and he sold 2 for $10,000. 
Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road

Shoshone Falls on the Snake

This is one of my favorite Moran’s, and one of the few I have gotten to see in person. I have included this as it is displayed in the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK. Go there if you ever get a chance, it is worth the diversion from whatever you are doing near there. This is how they were originally displayed with a place to sit and contemplate the immensity of it all as well as soak up the details. Another perspective on visiting the Gilcrease and the source of these images here.

Shoshone Falls on the Snake River*
*This is a cropped image. Open it in a new tab if you can to get a better detail of it. The original is huge and this photo does it little justice, but savor the view because this part of the Snake River has been dammed and these falls no longer do so.

One of the most striking images to come out of the Rocky Mountains was direct evidence that God was on the side of, and heartily approved of, Manifest Destiny. The Mount of the Holy Cross was thought to be only myth and legend and had never ben captured on canvas or film. As the snow melts natural crevasses in the side of the mountain that, it must be noted, was devilishly tricky to get to, was a blazing  (literally) snow white cross in the side of the mountain. Both Moran and Jackson caught it.

Mount of the Holy Cross 
Mount of the Holy Cross 

The images are striking, and definitely prove to those hearty enough to make the trek that God is still on your side. In fact he has been waiting for you out West. 
Mount of the Holy Cross Photograph by William Henry Jackson

 If there was any doubt that the cross existed in physical form and not just in the mind of a romantic landscape painter the expedition’s photographer William Henry Jackson’s handiwork put those to rest. In stark black and white he captured God’s giant thumbs up to westward expansion. It was this type of pairing–the photograph and the artwork–that sold the area to those holding the pursestrings in Washington.

As I mentioned before Moran did his most striking work when he was on his own independent trips out west. His connections with the railroad and friendships with the promoters for the Santa Fe Rail Road led to a degree of freedom of travel that any artist would have killed for. His promoter friend ensured Moran had a free pass anywhere the Santa Fe line ran, paid the Moran family’s Harvey House tabs Harvey Houses were Santa Fe hotels along the line), and took care of most of the bookkeeping and other logistics that allowed Moran unparalleled freedom and safety in the west. All this for agreeing to allow the Santa Fe Railroad to hold copyright on one of his works (and of his choosing) to use in their advertising campaign. In reality is was a win-win situation if ever there was one in the annals of art patronage.

Moran never lost his touch, and even in later years used light to greatly impact both the painting and the viewer.

Acoma (1903)

In Acoma we see Moran treating the Indians as Bierstadt had done, just as any other wildlife in the nature scene. More than that we see them riding into an uncertain future and disappearing into the dust cloud and then into landscape itself. His 1913 Venice is as close as he ever went to giving up form to pure light as Turner had. It is refreshing to see someone still working in the style of his original influence even late into his career and life. 
Venice (1913)

In a fun, if ironic twist Moran and the Hudson River School have been recently honored with their own USPS stamps. Moran, more or less, has retained a connection with his governmental patronage while it is funny to see artwork that is originally six by ten feet reduced to the literal size of a postage stamp.

 It might also be worth mentioning that, even in death, Bierstadt has missed out on another production for the American government. With that in mind, and in celebration of a long life full of creative vigor, travel, exploration, never ending romantically tinged realism, this image of Moran enjoying a cigar in 1912 seems the most fitting way to end this 2-pack of the Grand Landscape.