Edward Moran (1829-1901)
Edward Moran (1829-1901)

Commerce of Nations Rendering Homage to Liberty

Edward Moran (1829-1901)
Commerce of Nations Rendering Homage to Liberty
signed and dated 'Edward Moran 1876.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
95 x 70 ½ in. (241.3 x 179.1 cm.)
Painted in 1876.
The artist.
Joseph W. Drexel, New York, acquired from the above, 1880.
By descent to the present owner.
J.F. Packard, Grant’s Tour Around the World, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1880, pp. 145-46.
"New York Topics; The Value of a Big Picture," Boston Evening Transcript, August 9, 1889, p. 4.
"Bogus Pictures; An Interesting Letter from a Deceased New York Banker to His Artist Friend," Montreal Daily Witness, August 9, 1889, p. 3.
A. Gschaedler, True Light on the Statue of Liberty and Its Creator, Narberth, Pennsylvania, 1966, pp. 51, 58 (as Liberty Lighting the World's Commerce).
M. Pachter, F. Wein, eds., Abroad in America: Visitors to the New Nation, 1776-1914, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1976, p. 222, illustrated (as The Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World).
P.D. Schweizer, Edward Moran: American Marine and Landscape Painter, exhibition catalogue, Wilmington, Delaware, 1979, pp. 44-45, illustrated.
J.B. Bell, R.I. Abrams, In Search of Liberty: The Story of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Garden City, New York, 1984, pp. 28-29, 52, illustrated (as Liberty Lighting the World's Commerce).
P. Provoyeur, J.E. Hargrove, Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1986, pp. 147, 282n63-64, no. 347, frontispiece illustration.
B. Moreno, The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia, New York, 2000, p. 16 (as The Nations Paying Homage to Liberty).
B. Moreno, Images of America: The Statue of Liberty, Charleston, South Carolina, 2004, p. 61.
H. Marcovitz, Statue of Liberty: A Beacon of Welcome and Hope, New York, 2014, n.p. (as Liberty Enlightening the World's Commerce)
New York, Palette Association, Reception for Bartholdi, October 1876.
New York, Century Association, Meeting of the American Committee on the Statue of Liberty, January 2, 1877.
(Possibly) Paris, France, Banquet in Honor of General Grant, November 6, 1877.
New York, Union League Club, 1880.

Lot Essay

Regarded as one of America’s most prominent 19th century marine painters, Edward Moran’s artistic career began in Pennsylvania under the tutelage of James Hamilton and Paul Weber. Working in the same Philadelphia studio as his brother and fellow artist, Thomas Moran, the two achieved immediate recognition for their distinctive styles. In 1862, Moran traveled to England and continued his studies at the Royal Academy before returning to America and, in 1872, settling in New York City. During this pivotal period in his career, Moran met French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and learned of his plan to design a monumental statue on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, which would serve as an icon of freedom and liberty. To support the cause and inspire patriotic enthusiasm for Bartholdi’s undertaking, Moran painted and proudly displayed The Commerce of Nations Paying Homage to Liberty in 1876.

The original concept of the Statue of Liberty was proposed by French law professor and politician Edouard René de Laboulaye, but it was alongside Bartholdi that a concrete vision was established. The project was formally announced in 1875 and it was determined that the French would finance the statue and the Americans would cover the cost of the foundation and pedestal. Early models of the statue adhere very closely to the finished version and serve as a testament to Bartholdi and Laboulaye’s carefully considered concept of liberty and how best to express it. As Bartholdi moved forward with fabrication, much consideration was given to promoting the statute and raising the necessary funds. To bring exposure, Bartholdi sought an artist that was up to the challenge of painting a work that equaled his grand vision. “In Moran the French sculptor discovered a colleague who recognized the potential of fusing aesthetics and propaganda in art…Moran recognized as fully as Bartholdi the value of art as a document for the public. On a more profound, personal level, the American painter identified a kindred spirit in the French sculptor.” (P. Provoyeur, J.E. Hargrove, Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History, New York, 1986, p. 147). While French citizens, both rich and poor, supported the campaign with donations, American fundraising was slower to develop. In an effort to stimulate broader interest and enthusiasm in the project, Moran painted the present work and displayed it prominently. As noted, “Completed sometime in 1876, and acclaimed at the Palette Club reception in October, the work now served as a banner for the fledgling pedestal campaign, exhibited at social and business functions of the American Committee, at an art exhibition held at New York’s Union League in 1880, and possibly at the banquet honoring Ulysses S. Grant held in Paris in 1877. In 1880, Joseph W. Drexel acquired the painting at the reported price of ten thousand dollars—amply testifying to its appeal.” (Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History, p. 147) The work was also produced on an engraved certificate that was subsequently presented to individuals who contributed to the cause.

In The Commerce of Nations Paying Homage to Liberty Moran approximates certain elements of the neoclassical female figure and the base on which she stands. Peacefully reigning over the dynamic scene, the statue, with a torch, representative of progress, raised in her right hand and a tablet, evoking the concept of law, held firmly in her left, draws the viewer into the composition. With fog shrouding the low horizon line and the bottom of the pedestal one’s gaze is gradually drawn to the activity in the foreground. “Passengers, consisting of family groups as well as sailors, address each other as they traverse the harbor in busy concourse. Most conspicuously, the Commerce of Nations takes place beneath the Stars and Stripes and the Tri-Color.” (Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History, p. 147) Among these figures is the original owner Joseph W. Drexel's daughter. As is characteristics of Moran’s best work, he enhances the drama with a striking, luminist sky and a tranquil, green-blue sea.

Originally assembled in Paris in 1884, the statue was subsequently disassembled, crated, loaded onto a French steamer, shipped across the Atlantic and on June 17, 1885 it arrived in the New York port. While construction encountered various delays, reassembly of the statue eventually got underway and on October 28, 1886, a dedication ceremony was held. To commemorate this iconic moment Moran, still captivated by Bartholdi’s vision, painted Unveiling of the Statute of Liberty Enlightening the World (1886, Museum of the City of New York, New York). “Perhaps more than any other image, Moran’s [The] Commerce [of Nations Paying Homage to Liberty] embodies the entire network of complex associations inherent in the statue, from simple emotional patriotism and pride in nationalistic politics and economic disputes.” (Liberty: The French-American Statue in Art and History, p. 147)

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