Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thomas Moran

I am returning to my chronicling of Americas landscape heritage tonight.There are a number of themes that have run through this blog and one of them has been a history of American landscape painting. My intention in this blog has been to lay out what I thought a painter, or at least a landscape painter ought to know. I think that being conversant witth the history of our nations art is very important. I love Americas art history the same way I love rock and roll. I think people imagine historical painting to be dry and unapproachable, sort of the way I feel about physics. But it is not for me, this stuff feeds me, I am entertained and excited by it. If you don't know this art I hope I can get you excited about it too. I am always shocked when I meet supposedly educated people from the finest schools alright, who are totally ignorant of their nations art history.

Thomas Moran 1837 -1926
I think Moran is a transitional figure. he usually gets lumped in with the Hudson river school painters, however, he was in his early thirties when the Hudson river school began began to fall from favor in the 1870's. His era is really ater this through the turn of the century. Like Inness he was infleunced by Corot and the luminists, although he idolized Turner as a young man. He made eight trips to what was then the WILD west and was best known for his paintings of Yellowstone. He went there with early geological survey teams in the 1870's and
returned to his studio in Newark, New Jersey to convert then into large dramatic studio paintings. Congress bought several and his art was influential in their decision to for4m Americas National Park system.

Here is a picture Moran did of the falls of the Yellowstone river in what is now Yellowstone National Park. I have painted this location, though my picture is much tamer. Moran is best known for these highly colored rather exaggerated pictures of the American west. However, the Moran pictures that interest me the most are those from Long Island, that though less grand are I think less bombastic and more artful.. Moran lived to be 90 and ended up in Santa Barbara, California.

I will now post a number of images by Moran that are an amalgam of the Hudson River school tradition and Barbizon school painting, These pictures are something I have recently been very interested in.Most people looking at Moran study the western art, but I am posting the lesser known eastern and more Barbizon like paintings.

Look at how Corot like this one is, Even the figure is more like something from a European painting than something American. That tree is so Corot . But there is an American wildness to the painting. The Europeans wanted paintings of nature tamed. Americans were comfortable with "that wilder image"This picture shows an influence from Dutch painting.This is much more designed and less bristling with tiny details than a Church or a Bierstadt.

Except for its color one might take this for a Hudson River painting.

Like Inness, Moran painted in Florida, this is a wild place though, I think of a Florida of trailer parks and golf courses. This Florida is as wild as Yellowstone. The treatment is more like Diaz than Church or Bierstadt though.

Here is another Grand Canyon picture. The background may be Hudson River school in treatment, but the foreground is an exaggerated vertical design that is more formal and less naturalistic than a Hudson River school painting.

Here is another abstract and vertical tree design without the canyon.

Here is a wonderful painting that I have printed out and put near my easel. It has none of the obsessive detail that sometimes mars the work of the Hudson River school painting and is largely a synthetic design. It could be anywhere. All of the detail is suggested and blurred.

I guess I have done my job tonight. I am typing away in a hotel room up in the White Mountains. I am often writing this blog on the road. Doing this blog is a discipline, I have written it in motel rooms all over New England, in South Carolina and across the Midwest as far as Minnesota.
See you all tomorrow. Goodnight.


Philip Koch said...
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Philip Koch said...

Love American landscape painting art history the same way you love rock and roll- now that's a line I will always remember. Well said.

Thanks for posting the less known early Moran's. I agree their modesty makes them more impressive.

Moran's big Yellowstone & Grand Canyon pieces can get overblown sometimes. In them he reminds me of an earlier Jeff Koons, having to always top his previous efforts by coming up with something more outrageous to keep people talking.

Christine Walker said...

Thanks for the Morans. I didn't realize he painted such a range of landscapes. He was a fan of JMW Turner and painted some beautiful pictures of Venice,too.

Robert J. Simone said...

Awe Stape, you hurt my feelings a little...trailer parks and golf courses!?? Most of the trailer parks blew away a couple of years ago.

I know your kidding but maybe you should plan a trip down here. There are lots of places that look just like that Moran. Our guest cottage is usually available.

The St. Pete museum has a couple Morans but sadly they are in rough shape. They have a couple of his brother Edwin's paintings, too.

Nice post, thanks.

Christine Walker said...

The Morans that I've seen look very fresh. They may have been just cleaned, but I am wondering if the ground that he used had something to do with that look, too. Some of his paintings have crazed(one from Venice, particularly,) but some are in wonderful condition. And I know that he used asphaltum on some, too, but it doesn't seem to have affected them. Could you comment on the grounds used in paintings and how important they are? I think Moran might have been very very good at that.

Unknown said...

Thanks for continuing this series. You have usurped and expanded the art history I learned in school!

I can' wait until you get to the California Impressionists - I am hoping you go there.

Gregory Becker said...

I love this history lesson. There is so much to learn from this guy. That Corot-like painting has completely knocked my socks off. The presense of light is so rich. I look at paintings and take small parts of them and ask myself how would I handle that passage and I pretend that I painted it and start asking myself why I painted it that way. Alot of his passages leave me with no answers whatsoever. There are so many details that I would never have considered putting in. Like the detail of a tiny highlight on a rock to the left leading the eye down to the valley beyond those upright trees. He knew it would make someone look there. His work looks so deliberate which is a nice follow up of your previous post that mentioned how a deliberate painting is much better than a happy accident painting.
Way to illustrate your point.
Great post.

Stapleton Kearns said...

commented removed by author;
No comment..............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

I can't say that I was reminded of Jeff Koons. As I said in the post, I like the more Barbizon style paintings better. He is of course far better known for the others.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, also I had wondered where the vortex of evil was exactly, its good to know these things.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sorry, I forgot you were down there. Go Gaiters!


Stapleton Kearns said...

I will add grounds to my list of things to comment on. The condition of those paintings may mean only that the restorers have not visited, rather than a fault in his his methods. I don't know a lot of technical info on Moran. But perhaps I can find some out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Light up another county or two, I am coming, but they are a ways out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, you know I got a lot of flack over there at Fine Art Views for those ideas. Moran is singular for his color and for his in betweeness historically. I have another of those guys tonight.

mellissaguldin said...

i am a art lover in p.a and i came across a very nice sketch in pencil signed moran 08, on inside of cardboard backing is the name thomas sydney moran written, it is a 8 by 10 sketch.of what appears to be a lady possibly indian older woman with cloth wrapped around her, if anyone is interested in seeing or purchaseing this for their collection call 610 9291650 ask for peggy schaeffer or email me at