Monday, July 2, 2012

"Yellowstone" Moran Captures Venice

Thomas Moran
Although Thomas Moran (1837-1926) was an Englishman by birth, he is remembered today as one of the most important American landscape painters, particularly of Western scenes.  As a young man, Moran studied the works of the great British artist, J.M.W. Turner, whose dramatic, atmospheric, colorful paintings had a profound influence on his style and choice of subjects. Early in his career, Moran was a member of the Hudson River School of landscape painters, a group of artists with a romantic vision whose heyday was between 1855 and 1875.

Moran became the chief illustrator of Scribner’s Monthly magazine in the 1860’s, and it was while in this position that he arranged to accompany the 1871 survey expedition to Yellowstone. The dramatic paintings that resulted were widely reproduced, stirring the public’s imagination and leading to the creation of our first National Park.  He returned to the West many times, painting scenes of natural wonders that included the Grand Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, and many more. He became so identified with the West, especially Yellowstone, that he became known as Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran.   

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone 
The Sentinel - Yosemite

A Long Island River

Grand Canyon

President Obama adjusting The Three Tetons in the Oval Office.
In his day, Moran was a prolific and popular artist who paintings were hung in the U.S. Capitol and reproduced as inexpensive prints sold in gift shops. It seems as if Moran's works were everywhere. I was surprised to learn that not only does a Moran painting (The Three Tetons) hang in the Oval Office, President Obama personally adjusted it to hang straight!

Much less well known are Moran’s paintings of Venice that are reminiscent of Canaletto in their dreamy romanticism, but it was through prints of these scenes that I first learned of him when I began seeing them in antique shops. Some prints had the name “Moran” and the year, and this was how my search for information about the artist began. I was surprised to learn of his importance, and that he is best remembered for images of the American West. Over the years I collected half a dozen Moran scenes of Venice, some not in very good condition, in frames that proved their humble origins. Little did I know at the time that I could buy the same prints new for under $20, but even if I'd known, I would have preferred the old ones. They're the perfect complement to my $6 plaster gondola and the gold and silver carnival mask of the Sun and the Moon that Roger bought me for my birthday while we were in Venice. Moran's paintings perfectly capture the Venice that enchanted me, and they keep my memories vivid.

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