Renowned Art
Thomas Moran Gallery     Prints.     Full biography.
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
In 1871 Moran went west with the Hayden Expedition to record the wonders of the Yellowstone area, making annotated drawings and watercolors later used to illustrate articles in the popular press as well as the official report. Moran's watercolors convinced the U. S. Congress to set this area aside as America's first national park.
Arizona Sunset
Teton Range
Tohickon Creek
Cliff Dwellers
Resounding Sea
Nearing Camp


Nearing Camp, Evening on the Upper Colorado River, 1882

Extract from Andrew Wilton and Tim Barringer’s catalogue accompanying the
Tate Britain exhibition AMERICAN SUBLIME, 2002.

Born 12 February 1837, Bolton, Lancashire, England
Died 26 August 1926, Santa Barbara, California, USA

Born to a family of handloom weavers in the factory town of Bolton, Thomas Moran moved to the United States in 1844 with his mother and six siblings, where he joined his father who had settled in Philadelphia two years earlier.

Moran’s interest in art was largely due to the influence of his older brother Edward (1829 - 1901), a marine painter. In 1853 Thomas Moran commenced his apprenticeship to the Philadelphia engraving firm Scattergood & Telfer, which he left after just two years. In 1856 he moved to his brother’s studio, where he received formal training not only from Edward, but also from several notable Philadelphia artists, including the Irish-born marine painter James Hamilton (1819 - 1878), the German landscapist Paul Weber (1823 - 1916), and the engraver John Sartain (1808 - 1897). In this circle of artists, Moran was probably first exposed, through engravings, to the work of J.M.W. Turner, which would have a profound effect on him throughout his career. It was from Hamilton, an accomplished watercolourist, that Moran probably received his initial instruction in this medium, of which he was to become a master.

From 1856 Moran regularly exhibited his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which resulted in his election as an Academician in 1861. The following year Thomas (accompanied by Edward) travelled to England where he studied the work of Turner at the National Gallery and made sketching trips to Windsor and along the southern coast of England (including Arundel, Dover and Hastings).

In February 1863, shortly after returning to the United States, Moran married Mary Nimmo (1842 - 1899), who became a skilled etcher under her husband’s tutelage. In 1866 he made his debut at the National Academy of Design with Under the Trees (also known as The Autumnal Woods, 1865; Manoogian Collection). That year Moran again travelled to Europe, where he remained for nearly a year, during which time he visited Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 - 1875), exhibited at both the Exposition Universelle and Salon in Paris, and made a sketching trip to Rome.

In 1871 Moran made his first trip to the American West, accompanying the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories expedition to the Yellowstone region (present day Wyoming and Montana), led by Ferdinand V. Hayden. Among the party was the photographer William Henry Jackson, whose photographs of the region were occasionally used by Moran to compose his paintings. After returning from the expedition, Moran moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he painted his first grand-scale canvas of the West, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872). It drew widespread acclaim when exhibited in New York and Washington DC, and established Moran as one of the nation’s foremost landscape painters, a reputation bolstered when Congress purchased the painting in 1872 for the sum of $10,000.

In August 1872 Moran and his wife travelled to the Yosemite Valley in California where he made a number of pencil-and-ink and watercolour sketches. In 1873, Moran again ventured west, this time with a government survey expedition of the Grand Canyon, led by John Wesley Powell. The sketches made by Moran on this journey resulted in The Chasm of the Colorado (1873), a painting equal in size to his previous masterpiece. Moran continued to paint the west throughout his life, visiting the Rocky Mountains (1874); the Sierra Nevadas and the Teton Range (with his brother, Peter, in 1879); Mexico (1883); Yellowstone (1900); and re-visiting the Grand Canyon (often with his daughter Ruth) almost annually from 1901 until his death in 1926.

The monogram
Moran came to be so closely identified with Yellowstone that as a mark of this, he even absorbed it into his signature, creating and using the ‘Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran’ Monogram from 1872.

Moran also made several more trips to Europe, most notably his 1882 trip to Britain, during which he sketched extensively in Scotland, Wales and England. During this trip his work drew the attention of John Ruskin who praised the artist’s technique and purchased several of Moran’s watercolours and etchings. Moran visited Venice in 1886 and again in 1890, when he purchased the poet Robert Browning’s gondola for use at his summer home at East Hampton, Long Island, New York.

Moran was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1881, and elevated to Academician in 1883.

In 1916 he moved his winter residence to California (first Pasadena, then Santa Barbara), although he continued to summer in East Hampton. By the end of the century, Moran’s critical reputation had faded, but through popular chromolithographic reproductions, Moran’s work continued to be enjoyed by the public at large throughout the final decades of his life.
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