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Thomas Moran

American Landscape Painter

Thomas Moran Photo

Born: February 12, 1837 - Lancashire, England

Died: August 25, 1926 - Santa Barbara, California

"I use my memory. This I have trained from youth up, so that while sketching and coloring, I impress indelibly upon my mind the features of the landscape and the combinations of coloring, so that when back in my studio the water color will recall vividly all the striking peculiarities of the scene visited."

Summary of Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran was one of the most significant North-American painters of the nineteenth century. He was part of the second generation of great US landscape painters, who took the signature style of spiritually-infused naturalism developed by pioneers such as Thomas Cole and adapted it to new vistas. But whereas followers of Cole such as Frederic Edwin Church had fixed the quixotic gaze of the colonial artist on the Andes of South America, Moran's attention was drawn westwards, to the expanses of the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. Painting in a style that arguably surpassed both Cole and Church for divine yet naturalistic grandeur - his seas and skies have something of the Sublime quality of J.M.W. Turner - he opened up a whole new portion of the North American landscape to the imagination of its settler community.

Key Ideas

Thomas Moran is often said to form part of the Rocky Mountain School. Though not a 'school' in any conventional sense, he was one of a number of artists (including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith) who developed the aesthetic of the East Coast-based Hudson River painters by depicting the vaster, more rugged terrains of the American West. A direct thread can be traced back from their work to the adapted European-Romantic aesthetic of Cole et al. Indeed, in the case of Bierstadt, Keith, and the English-born Moran, combined European and American identity perhaps enhanced the Northern-European Romantic aesthetic underlying their work.
J.M.W Turner's work was an exemplar to many of Moran's contemporaries. But perhaps no North-American landscape painter of the nineteenth century inherited the mantle of Turner's rugged magnificence like Moran. The combined qualities of Sublimity and apparent rootedness in human emotion that define Moran's best canvases - less glossy and overdone than some of his contemporaries' - arguably position him as Turner's most important North-American protégé.
Moran's work exemplifies the quality of the Sublime in art, whereby grand natural spectacles - or sometimes manmade ones - generate a sense of terror and awe in the viewer. The Grand Canyon and other landmarks of the American West appear so vast and alien in his work that they seem somehow impervious to the scales of human experience and emotion. This was a quality that Moran and other American landscape painters borrowed directly from European predecessors of the eighteenth century, such as the dramatic painter Caspar David Friedrich.
Moran's depictions of the American West have a complicated legacy in national popular culture. While he opened up these landscapes to the tourist industry that would (practically) overrun them, his work has also been vital to ongoing attempts to preserve them. His paintings of Yellowstone, for example, were pivotal in ensuring that Congress established the area as a national park. Today, his paintings continue to inspire the American public to seek out the ever-diminishing rugged spaces of their nation.
Thomas Moran Life and Legacy

Thomas Moran was born on February 12th, 1837 in Bolton, Lancashire, in the English industrial heartland which was also the childhood home of America's pioneer landscape painter Thomas Cole. Born to Mary (née Higson) and Thomas Moran Senior, Moran was one of seven children. He came from a line of handloom weavers, whose skills were made redundant with the invention of power looms.

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