Thomas Moran (February 12, 1837 – August 25,
1926) from Bolton, England was an American painter and printmaker of the
Hudson River School in New York whose work often featured the Rocky Mountains.
Moran and his family took residence in New York where he obtained work as an
artist. He was a younger brother of the noted marine artist Edward Moran, with
whom he shared a studio. A talented illustrator and exquisite colorist, Thomas
Moran was hired as an illustrator at Scribner's Monthly. During the late
1860s, he was appointed the chief illustrator for the magazine, a position
that helped him launch his career as one of the premier painters of the
Moran along with Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith are sometimes
referred to as belonging to the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters because
of all of the Western landscapes made by this group.
Thomas Moran began his artistic career as a teenage apprentice to the
Philadelphia wood-engraving firm Scattergood & Telfer. Moran found the
engraving process "tedious" and spent his free time working on his own
watercolors. By the mid-1850s he was drawing the firm's illustrations for
publication rather than carving them. He began studying with local painter James
Hamilton who introduced him to the work of British artist J. M. W. Turner. Moran
traveled to England in 1862 to see Turner's work and he often acknowledged that
artist's influence on his use of color and choice of landscapes. During the 1870s
and 1880s Moran's designs for wood-engraved illustrations appeared in major
magazines and gift oriented publications.
Moran was married to Scottish born Mary Nimmo Moran (1842–1899), an etcher and
landscape painter. The couple had two daughters and a son. His brothers Edward
(1829–1901), John (1831–1902) and Peter (1841–1914), as well as his nephews Edward
Percy Moran (1862–1935) and Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) were also active as
artists. He died in Santa Barbara, California on August 26, 1926.
Thomas Moran's vision of the Western landscape was critical to the creation of
Yellowstone National Park. In 1871 Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, director of the United
States Geological Survey, invited Moran, at the request of American financier Jay
Cooke, to join Hayden and his expedition team into the unknown Yellowstone region.
Hayden was just about to embark on his arduous journey when he received a letter
from Cooke presenting Moran as "an artist of Philadelphia of rare genius". Funded
by Cooke (the director of the Northern Pacific Railroad), and Scribner's Monthly, a
new illustrated magazine, Moran agreed to join the survey team of the Hayden
Geological Survey of 1871 in their exploration of the Yellowstone region. During
forty days in the wilderness area, Moran visually documented over 30 different
sites and produced a diary of the expedition's progress and daily activities. His
sketches, along with photographs produced by survey member William Henry Jackson,
captured the nation's attention and helped inspire Congress to establish the
Yellowstone region as the first national park in 1872. Moran's paintings along with
Jackson's photographs revealed the scale and splendor of the beautiful Yellowstone
region more than written or oral descriptions, persuading President Grant and the
US Congress that Yellowstone was to be preserved. Moran's impact on Yellowstone was
great, but Yellowstone had a significant influence on the artist, too. His first
national recognition as an artist, as well as his first large financial success
resulted from his connection with Yellowstone. He even adopted a new signature:
T-Y-M, Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran. Just one year after his introduction to the
area, Moran captured the imagination of the American public with his first enormous
painting of a far-western natural wonder, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,
which the government purchased in 1872 for $10,000. For the next two decades, he
published his work in various periodicals and created hundreds of large paintings.
Several of these, including two versions of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
(1893–1901 and 1872) and Chasm of the Colorado (1873–74) are now on view at the
Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Over the next forty years Moran traveled extensively. He went back to
Yellowstone with Jackson in 1892. They were invited by Elwood Mead, the state
engineer of Wyoming, in preparation for a "Wyoming Exhibition" at the World's
Columbian Exposition. Thousands of tourists were now able to visit the park,
arriving by the Northern Pacific Railway, and Moran and Jackson were able to take
advantage of the tourist facilities, such as a hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. Moran
wrote "After a day at Norris we left for the Grand Canyon where we stayed two days
and made a great many photos. I saw so much to sketch that I have determined to
return there myself after I have been to the Geyser Basins and the lake and spend a
week at work there. It is as glorious in color as ever and I was completely carried
away by its magnificence. I think I can paint a better picture of it than the old
one after I have made my sketches." Moran sketched many more images of the Canyon
on this trip than he had in 1871, including views from the viewpoint named for him
on the 1871 trip, "Moran Point."
Moran was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Design in 1884
and produced numerous works of art in his senior years.
Painting in the White House
Thomas Moran has a painting exhibited as part of the White House collection. In
the photograph depicting President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres
in the Oval Office it is seen on the wall: the portrait of George Washington is
between City of Washington From Beyond the Navy Yard (1833) by George
Cooke (on the left) and The Three Tetons (1895) by Thomas Moran (on the
right). Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
The Thomas Moran House in East Hampton, New York is a National Historic
Landmark. Mount Moran in the Grand Teton National Park is named for Moran. His work
is held in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the
Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.