Thomas Moran (1827-1926)
Thomas Moran (1827-1926)

Morning in the Sierras, Nevada

Thomas Moran (1827-1926)
Morning in the Sierras, Nevada
signed with conjoined initials and dated 'TMoran 1910' (lower right)--signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm.)
The artist.
[With]Moulton & Ricketts, Chicago, Illinois, 1910.
Ruth Moran.
[With]John Levy, New York, 1941.
[With]Schweitzer Gallery, New York.
[With]Joseph Sartor, Dallas, Texas.
T.D. Murphy, Seven Wonderlands of the American West, Boston, Massachusetts, 1925, p. 114, illustrated (as Morning in the High Sierras).

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Lot Essay

Thomas Moran traveled on the Union Pacific to Green River City on his first trip to the American West in 1871. He was on his way to join Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, Director of the United States Geological Survey, on his surveying expedition of Yellowstone, Wyoming Territory in order to illustrate an article about the trip for Scribner's Monthly magazine. Upon disembarking the train in Green River City Moran was greeted by an unexpectedly grand panorama, "a landscape unlike any other. The striated sandstone cliffs with their yellow, orange, red, and lavender bands were ideally suited to a painter who found his inspiration in the color of J.M.W. Turner." (N.K. Anderson, "The Kiss of Enterprise: The Western Landscape as Symbol and Resource," in The West as American: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 246)

Moran was instantly captivated by the rugged splendor and mesmerizing light of the largely unexplored territory, a sensation that grew with each subsequent trip. His initial awe at the vast landscape and dramatic topography never dissipated, rather it became the subject of his greatest paintings. His romantic, idealistic approach to the landscape as seen in Morning in the Sierras, Nevada, distinguished him from other painters as did his masterful use of light, color and composition. He expressed his sentiments about landscape painting when discussing The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone (1872, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.)--one of his earliest large-scale depictions of the West, which was purchased by the United States government the year that it was painted: "By all Artists, it has heretofore been deemed next to impossible to make good pictures of Strange and Wonderful Scenes in nature; and that the most that could be done with such material was to give topographical or geological characteristics. But I have always held that the Grandest, Most Beautiful, or Wonderful in Nature, would, in capable hands, make the grandest, most beautiful, or wonderful pictures, and that the business of a great painter should be the representation of great scenes in Nature." (as quoted in J.L. Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 65) Thomas Moran proved himself as a painter through superb works such as Morning in the Sierras, Nevada. While the use of light and color in the present work demonstrate the influence of British Romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner, Moran is original in his approach to the uniquely American landscape.

Painted in 1910, Morning in the Sierras, Nevada, manifests Moran's approach to landscape painting as well as his artistic virtuoso. This dramatic painting approaches the mountainous landscape from a high vantage point and captures the steep slopes and rocky outcroppings cloaked in early morning mist. In this romantic composition, Moran adeptly blends tones of blues, purples, whites and grays throughout the composition to imbue the painting with cohesion and unity. He indicates the vastness of the peaks through a high horizon line that renders the viewer with the sense that they continue to rise infinitely and rhythmically. He skillfully manipulates light and shadow to heighten the majesty of the scene, bathing the highest, snowcapped peaks in warm, light tinged with fog to enhance their pristine grandeur while covering areas of the slope and distant peaks in deep blue shadow, creating a striking contrast. The immediate foreground, which consists of richly colored evergreens and rocks, is highly detailed and cast in deep shadow to act as a frame for the dazzling scene beyond.

Morning in the Sierras, Nevada is a consummate example of the refinement, elegance and grandeur of Moran's greatest paintings of the American West. The artist seamlessly integrates his compositional and aesthetic sensibilities to imbue the primordial scene with sense of majesty and timeless beauty that both encapsulates and evokes the West's untamed past.

This painting will be included in Stephen L. Good's and Phyllis Braff's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

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