Thomas Moran is considered by many America's greatest landscape painter. He worked frequently from sketches and watercolor studies, and was a gifted watercolor painter.
The Early Years - Fantasy
Trips to the American West resulted in his most popular landscapes. But prior to his travels, he often worked from fantasy inspired by books and simple imagination - Salvador Rosa and the Brigands, and Children of the Mountain are two examples.
Salvador Rosa and the Brigands. 1860. Oil Autumnal Woods. 1865. Oil Children of the Mountain. 1867. Oil
In 1870, the new Northern-Pacific railroad sponsored Moran on an exploratory trip to discover and paint the beautiful scenery of the Grand Canyon. His paintings had a profound effect on the American public, and on Congress. Most members of Congress had not seen the beauty of the American West, so Moran brought his watercolor studies and paintings east to Washington. His great landscapes influenced Congress to preserve Yellowstone, proclaiming it the first national park.
His three great western landscapes - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Chasm of the Colorado, and Mountain of the Holy Cross, which he painted in both oil and watercolor - formed the core of a Philadelphia exposition.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. 1901. Oil Mountain of the Holy Cross. 1875. Oil Chasm of the Colorado. 1874. Oil
Mountain of the Holy Cross. 1894. Watercolor Three Tetons. 1895. Oil
Moran's Three Tetons hangs in the Oval Office of the White House. It was first introduced in 1989 with President George H. Bush.
Mosquito Trail, Rocky Mtns. 1874. Watercolor Castle Geyser. 1871. Watercolor In the Lava Beds. 1892. Watercolor
His pencil and watercolor studies laid the groundwork for multiple studio variations of the landscapes that inspired him.
Shoshone Falls Idaho. 1875. Watercolor Shoshone Falls Snake River. 1890. Oil.
Green River Cliffs Wyoming. 1881. Oil Green River Cliffs Wyoming. Date Unknown. Watercolor
Subjects Beyond the West
Moran was a painter with diverse interests. British painter J.W. Turner inspired him, and he was heavily influenced by his work and technique. In the early 1880's, he traveled to Britain and Europe visiting places Turner painted. Turner's paintings of Venice were of particular interest to him. Moran painted at least 25 different scenes of the Italian harbor. He also found subjects in Mexico and Cuba.
Lagoon Toward Santa Maria. 1894. Watercolor View of Venice. 1888. Watercolor View of Venice. 1895. Watercolor
Pass at Glencoe, Scotland. 1882. Watercolor Trojes Mine (Mexico). 1895. Watercolor
But he stated that he found the Swiss Alps, and European landscapes in general, somewhat pale in comparison to those in America. Said Moran:
"There is no phase of landscape in which we are not richer, more varied and interesting than any country in the world."
Long Island Influence
By 1884, Moran's move to the southern shore of Eastern Long Island had a pronounced effect on his landscapes. Seascapes and village scenes became his subjects.
Cloudy Day at Amagansett. 1884. Oil The Much Resounding Sea. 1894. Oil June East Hampton. 1894. Oil
East Hampton Beach. 1884. Oil East Hampton Beach. 1884. Watercolor
In his later years, Moran returned to his subjects from the American West, revisiting earlier sketch and watercolor studies in the creation of new variations. Fittingly, it is these landscapes of the American West for which Moran will most closely be associated.
Grand Canyon. 1912. Oil
By Lou Escalante