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)

A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon

THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926)
A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon
signed with initials in monogram and dated 'TMoran 1903' (lower right)—signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1903.
The artist.
Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, New York, 29 October 1903, lot 59, sold by the above.
Ehrich-Newhouse Galleries, New York.
Frank and Merle Buttram, Oklahoma, acquired from the above, circa 1923.
Private collection, by descent.
Christie's, New York, 21 May 2008, lot 113, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
F. Levy, American Art Annual, vol. V, 1905, p. 85 (as Passing Shower, Yellowstone Canyon).
F. Fryxell, Thomas Moran: Explorer in Search of Beauty, “Explorer in Search of Beauty,” East Hampton, Long Island, 1958, p. 13 (as Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Canyon).
Saint Louis, Missouri, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Impressionism Reflected: American Art, 1890-1920, May 6-June 27, 1982 (as Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, From Artist's Point).
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

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Lot Essay

After travelling to Yellowstone in 1867, James Dunlevy wrote of the then largely unexplored area, “Tall spires of colossal grandeur which in beauty and symmetry are superior to any works of art; beetling cliffs of rock…turreted like castles and rolling away off in beautiful white pyramidal forms, were to be seen on every side. Language is not adequate to convey an idea of the marvelous beauty of the scenery, which is beyond the power of descriptions…We trust ere long some select party, well prepared and equipped, will be able to penetrate these wilds and reveal to the world its manifest beauties, existing as they do in all their pristine grandeur.” (as quoted in J.L. Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 47) Indeed, in the coming years, Thomas Moran’s sublime paintings of Yellowstone, such as A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon, would transcend the limitations of written language to finally convey the majesty of the rugged topography and instill in the American public an indelible appreciation for this unique natural landscape that still rings true today.

Inspired by accounts such as Dunlevy’s, in 1871 Thomas Moran joined a geologic expedition headed by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden along with the photographer William Henry Jackson to explore the area. Traveling by horseback through Southern Montana and Northeastern Wyoming, the expedition explored spectacular natural wonders, including the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and, ultimately, the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins of the Firehole River. Stunned by the magnificent landscape, Moran fervently sketched the region every chance he could, which culminated in some of the artist’s most exceptional oil watercolors and oil paintings, including Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon. Moran would rely on his sketches, Jackson’s photographs, as well as his powerful memory of the experience over the course of his long career to create some of the most indelible imagery in all of American art.

The importance of works including A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon within the American national consciousness cannot be understated. Along with Jackson’s photographs, Moran’s depictions of Yellowstone became essential to establishing the public’s appreciation of Yellowstone as and later were instrumental in Congress’ decision to make Yellowstone America’s first National Park on March 1, 1872. The period success and enduring appreciation for Moran’s unique ability to accurately, and emotionally, convey the awesomeness of these American natural landmarks, is confirmed by their impact on our nation’s land preservation policies. Admired by sophisticated patrons of his day, and broadly reproduced and consumed by a vast audience of fascinated Americans, both then and now, Moran’s impressions recorded from his explorations of Yellowstone remain one of the most historically significant and visually compelling series of American Art. Indeed, Jackson fondly recalled in 1929: “Moran has been the greatest painter of the Yellowstone, and it was his wonderful coloring, in pictures of canyons and hot springs, that made the convincing argument for their preservation for the benefit of all posterity.” (as quoted in J.L. Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, p. 60) Indeed, Moran’s name became so simultaneous with Yellowstone, that today a cliff on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is known as “Moran Point.”

Furthermore, the present work relates closely to Moran’s monumental The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872, U.S. Department of the Interior Museum, Washington, D.C)—a work central to establishing appreciation for both Yellowstone and Moran itself when it was purchased by the United States government the year of its completion, hanging in the Senate wing of the Capitol until 1950. Both works depict from the same angle the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the large canyon cut out of the Rockies by the Yellowstone River.  In the distance at the back of the canyon, are the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. These falls constitute the second set of falls in the famed Falls of the Yellowstone, with the Upper Falls being just upriver.  Other notable examples of the Yellowstone Canon include The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1893-1901, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.); Lower Falls, Yellowstone Park (1893, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa Oklahoma); Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming (1906, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California) and The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Wyoming (1904, Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii)

Moran traveled to the Yellowstone region again and again after his first historic visit, never ceasing to be struck by its beauty and never losing the ability to recreate it in his work. Executed in the midst of these repeated trips, A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon was painted the same year President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yellowstone for the second time in 1903. Traveling throughout the park with the writer John Burroughs, Roosevelt was accompanied by acting-superintendent Major John Pitcher. At the end of the two week journey the President praised the Park from its north entrance, now known as Roosevelt Arch: “The geysers, the extraordinary hot springs, the lakes, the mountains, the canyons, and cataracts unite to make this region something not wholly to be paralleled elsewhere on the globe. It must be kept for the benefit and enjoyment of all of us.” (as quoted in A.H. Lewis, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1905, vol. I, Washington, D.C., 1906, p. 274.)

A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Cañon manifests Moran’s approach to landscape painting as well as his artistic virtuoso. Depicting a steep slope and rocky canyon outcroppings in the fore-and-middle ground, the image’s distant waterfall and brief glimpse of rushing river denote the location. Moran blends pinks, yellows and blues throughout the composition to imbue the painting with a tactful cohesion and unity. Through skillfully manipulating light and shadow to heighten the majesty of the scene, Moran bathes the highest peaks in warm light to evoke a sublime grandeur while creating striking contrast between deep blue shadows of distant peaks. Moran captures the locale’s distinct atmosphere through billowing clouds and varies paint application throughout the composition to masterfully capture a multitude of nature’s textures—with the only sign of life a solitary bird dwarfed by nature’s majesty.

In addition to their importance to the national appreciation of the West, Moran’s magnificent Yellowstone paintings also maintained a personal importance for the artist—as evidenced by his monogramed signature “TYM” for Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. Indeed, Moran later reflected, “Since that time, I have wandered over a good part of the Territories and have seen much of the varied scenery of the Far West, but that of the Yellowstone retains its hold upon my imagination with a vividness as of yesterday…The impression then made upon me by the stupendous and remarkable manifestations of nature’s forces will remain with me as long as memory lasts.” (as quoted in C. Clark, Explorers of the West, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1997, p. 27)

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