THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
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THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
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THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)

Grand Canyon, Colorado River

Details
THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
Grand Canyon, Colorado River
signed with initials in monogram and dated 'TMoran. 1915' with artist's thumbprint device (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm.)
Painted in 1915.
Provenance
The artist.
Chase F. Osborn, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Midwestern historical society, gift from the above.
Christie's, New York, 29 November 2000, lot 106, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
Further details
This work will be included in Phyllis Braff’s, Stephen Good’s and Melissa Webster Speidel’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

In search of his next great adventure after the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone the year prior, Thomas Moran first visited the Grand Canyon in 1873 as a member of John Wesley Powell's surveying party. The region’s dramatic light, color and topography immediately captivated the artist, resulting in numerous return trips and hundreds of canvases throughout his five-decade career. These works, including the Chasm of the Colorado (1873, U.S. Department of Interior Museum, Washington, D.C.)—the pendant picture to his majestic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone of 1872 (U.S. Department of Interior Museum)—furthered the region’s appeal and eventual designation in 1908 as a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt and later a National Park in 1919. Speaking to the national interest in the region, Roosevelt declared of the Grand Canyon after visiting in 1903, “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness." (https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/news/grand-canyon-national-park-presents-living-history-performance-of-president-theodore-roosevelt.htm) Rendered with his hallmark attention to the area’s atmospheric effects, Grand Canyon, Colorado River manifests the similar profound veneration Roosevelt harbored for this cherished subject. As the artist described, “Of all places on earth the great canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities.” (as quoted in J.L. Kinsey, Splendors of the American West: Thomas Moran's Art of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, Birmingham, Alabama, 1990, p. 37)

As is characteristic of Moran’s best works, Grand Canyon, Colorado River transcends the auspices of precise geologic transcription to convey the awe-inspiring effect of the American landscape rather than precisely reproducing it. William H. Simpson observed in 1909, “He sketched scarcely at all, contenting himself with pencil memoranda of a few rock forms, and making no color notes whatsoever. He depended upon keen powers of observation and a well-trained memory for rich tones which perhaps a year later were to reappear on canvas, true to nature and likewise true to the interpretive touch of genius." (as quoted in T. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1966, p. 217)

Indeed, in the present work, Moran selectively recalls elements from his experience in the Canyon to best communicate the sublimity of his chosen landscape. He mesmerizes the viewer by presenting a spectacular expanse of rugged peaks and atmospheric valleys—filled with dramatic play of light and shadow overlaying fantastic natural forms. Using color modulations and a variegated paint surface, Moran skillfully conveys the cliffs’ rough sandstone façades and the canyon’s celebrated colors and textures. All the while, he cloaks a portion of his vista in tempestuous clouds and showers, indicating the capricious weather patterns of the area. The artist delights in the mists and clouds as they conceal and mystify some aspects of the landscape and highlight others.

Today, Moran’s name remains indelibly linked to Grand Canyon National Park with his namesake view, Moran Point. His works inspired by his time gazing at the tremendous view from this spot conveyed the grandeur of the West to the American public of his era, capturing their imagination and largely influencing their concept of the region. To today's viewers, they convey a dynamic moment in the nation’s expansion, a powerful vision of one of America’s most distinct landforms, and continue to be an inspiration for contemporary artists. Carol Clark writes, "Moran’s western canvases and watercolors depicted areas of great significance to the American public; they conferred historical legitimacy to a land lacking human associations and presented a stage for the unfolding drama of a nation's future. Moran's American landscape could also rise in status by association with historical themes. As America viewed her land, especially the West, as part of a natural historical past destined to determine a great future, Americans began to accept landscape painting in oil and watercolor as an integral and formative element of this destiny." (Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Austin, Texas, 1980, p. 35) It was the finest accomplishment of Moran's career that he transformed the allure of the West into an important part of the foundation of our American cultural identity.

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