Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)

Moonlit Shipwreck at Sea

Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
Moonlit Shipwreck at Sea
signed with conjoined initials and dated 'TMoran N.A./1901.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 40 ¼ in. (76.2 x 102.2 cm.)
Painted in 1901.
Private collection, Florida.
Christie's, New York, 5 December 1986, lot 85, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owners from the above.
J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, vol. II, New York, 1988, no. 12, pp. 39-40, illustrated.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is a lot where Christie’s holds a direct financial guarantee interest.

Brought to you by

General Enquiries
General Enquiries

Lot Essay

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

To this day, Thomas Moran continues to be celebrated as one of the great visual architects of the American panorama. While best known for his depictions of the American West, his fame was grounded in his abilities as a draftsman, designer and painter to imbue his subjects with both beauty and drama--talents he applied to a wide range of subjects. Capturing nature’s awesomeness with his signature attention to light, Moonlit Shipwreck at Sea manifests Moran’s renowned abilities as both an artist and storyteller.

Moran’s greatest works reflect the influence of his European predecessors, many of whom transcended realism to subtly provoke their viewers’ imaginations. Most notably, Moran’s infusive light, dynamic expressive brushwork and modulated tones resemble the work of British Romantic painter Joseph M.W. Turner. As a young man, Moran had studied black-and-white reproductions of Turner’s paintings before traveling to Europe in 1861, where he studied the master’s work in person. Turner's impact on Moran is impossible to overlook. While both artists drew artistic inspiration from the landscape, they also frequently altered their scenes to capture the character of their vision rather than simply transcribe a setting.

The turbulent seascape depicted in Moonlit Shipwreck at Sea must have been a familiar site for Moran, having travelled over oceans on a number of occasions to Europe as well as to Cuba and Mexico. Such a scene was also surely commonplace in the waters off Moran’s hometown of East Hampton, Long Island. Beyond its demonstration of Moran’s artistic abilities, the present work presents viewers with a tantalizing implied narrative, much in the way of Turner. Set in the front of the picture plane, the viewer is immediately aware of the emotional and visual anchor of the painting--the remnants of a ship and the only relatable sign of human existence. In an effort to solidify the drama of the perceived saga, Moran utilizes strong diagonals and alternates contrasting tones in the fore, middle and backgrounds to violently break apart the composition. Much in the way Théodore Géricault presents his viewer with a fleeting sign of hope in his Raft of the Medusa (1818, Louvre, Paris, France), here Moran employs a pair of delicate birds, hovering just above the wreckage at lower right, to reassure his audience with a tangible sign of life. At the very least, the birds, dwarfed by the crashing waves, contribute further to not just the drama of the painting, but also to its monumentality.

More from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Art of the Americas, Evening Sale

View All
View All