Thursday, January 31, 2013

Closely looking at Thomas Moran's "Green River Cliffs, Wyoming"

Thomas Moran (artist)
American, 1837 - 1926
Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881
oil on canvas

25" x 62"


by artist Thomas Moran
A National Gallery of Art Special Exhibition
Up until June, 2013

In June 1871, Thomas Moran, a gifted young artist working in Philadelphia, boarded a train that would take him to the far reaches of the western frontier and change the course of his career. Just a few months earlier he had been asked to illustrate a magazine article describing a wondrous region in Wyoming called Yellowstone - rumored to contain steam-spewing geysers, boiling hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. Eager to be the first artist to record these astonishing natural wonders, Moran quickly made plans to travel west.

Framed size: 43" x 80" x 6"

Yellowstone was Moran's ultimate destination in the summer of 1871, but before he reached the land of geysers and hot springs, he stepped off the train in Green River, Wyoming and discovered a landscape unlike any he had ever seen. Rising above the dusty railroad yawn were towering cliffs, reduced by nature to their geologic essence. Captivated by the bands of color that centuries of wind and water had revealed, Moran completed the watercolors that would play a key role in the congressional decision to set aside the region as America's first national park. Over the years, however, the subject Moran returned to repeatedly was the western landscape he saw first - the magnificent cliffs of Green River, Wyoming.

Green river was a bustling railroad town in 1871. Three years earlier, Union Pacific construction crews had arrived intent on bridging the river. Their tent camp quickly became a boom town boasting a schoolhouse, hotel, and brewery. Yet none of these structures appears in Moran's Green River paintings, even the railroad is missing. (Photo by Andrew J. Russell - Wikipedia)

Moran focused on the dazzling colors of the sculpted cliffs and an equally colorful band of Indians are the focus. In a bravura display of artistic license, Moran erased the reality of advancing civilization, conjuring instead an imagined scene of a pre-industrial West that neither he nor anyone else could have seen in 1871. Ten years after his first trip west, in 1881, Moran completed "Green River Cliffs, Wyoming", the most stunning of all his Green River paintings.

Let's take a close look at our second painting this month "Green River, Wyoming", currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The geology of the the area is revealed in these eroded cliffs, so commonly associated with the Western United States.

On the right 1/3rd of the work is a beautiful depiction of Bristle Cone pines flourishing at the bottom of the cliffs and accented here by late afternoon light.

Almost home, the Indians on a hilltop overlooking their camp in the distance.
Moran captures the casual postures and personalities of the Indians and their horses as they chat and ride by the river, toward camp. Notice, there are no detailed facial features, just shapes.

A complex abstraction of heavily worked oil paint creates the landscape behind this Indian, as he follows the others up the hill. In this mini-painting, details of the horse, saddle, his clothes, headdress, hair, muscle tone of his arm and flowers among the tall grass are all present, yet quickly painted.

A masterful depiction of a lone horse, showing the influence of photography - with the legs cropped out of the frame, is painted at the bottom/center of the work.
Artist Thomas Moran
(East Hampton Public Library, New York)

Finally below, a detailed look at the large canvas in 1/3 segments. Notice the shifts of color and the abstracted shapes this landscape allowed the artist. 1881 is the same time period when Impressionism was in full bloom in Europe.

Left 1/3 of the canvas.

Center 1/3 of the canvas.

Right 1/3 of the canvas.
(Sources: All photos were taken of this artwork with permission -at the National Gallery of Art by Jack A. Atkinson. All reference information was provided by the the museum.) Note: there is no FOOD segment in this issue.

Until later,
ARTSnFOOD, is an online publication dedicated to "The Pursuit of Happiness, the Arts and Food." ™ All rights reserved. Concept, Original Art, Text & Photographs are © Copyright 2013 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. All gallery, museum, fair or festival photographs were taken with permission. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

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