Thomas Moran 1837-1926 The Cliffs of the Green River
I was visiting the Amon Carter museum in Fort Worth-Dallas last week and saw a wonderful show of Hudson River school paintings. The painting that really caught me was a Thomas Moran. Here are some things that I noticed about the painting that I DID see.
- The painting only appeared to be "tight". On closer examination it was broadly painted, more so than I would expect from a Hudson River guy, although he was of the second phalanx, the Luminists.
- Portions of the painting appeared to have been done with a knife. Particularly this was evident in the cliffs and rocks (the painting I saw was of the Green River cliffs).
- There seemed to be an enormous amount of oil in his paint. It appeared to me that the paint went down much thinner and oilier than that we get out of a tube today. It almost looked as if he may have mixed his tints in little cups beforehand. I am guessing at that of course. But the paint was really flatted like a great deal of oil causes.
- Their were little figures riding along one side of the painting and they had been reduced to their simplest shapes. the heads were just ovals of flat color. From a distance they worked very well. up close, there was nothing there.
- I was surprised by how much of the painting looked as if it could have been done in earth colors and chromium oxide rather than cadmiums although they were there too. Still for such extravagant color effects I would have supposed a brighter palette. So many 19th century painters seemed to have worked in a few earth colors and then decorated their pictures with a few bright cadmium notes.
- The foliage looked to have been mostly painted with a knife and had little details of leaves added with a fine sable. Again it was very broad when observed closely.
- Moran made lots of pencil drawings on several trips to the west, and then painted from them back in New York for the rest of his career. But rather than this being a disadvantage to him, it worked in his favor. He was free to install color as he pleased. He did a lot of watercolor sketches too, and I think he relied on those and some color annotations on the sides of his drawings to color his paintings in the studio.
- His color was influenced by the sunsets and brilliant effects he invented, That allowed him to paint great passages in yellows and reds that would have been much more ordinary if painted on site from observation.
- This distancing from the actual subject also freed him up to install layered steps back into the painting. The unit above has that. He is continually silhouetting a dark passage in the fore or middle ground against a brightly lit passage behind it. He was making visual poetry rather than a journalistic accounting of what was actually sitting before him.