Monday, October 8, 2012

Thomas Moran

Green Cliffs Wyoming at National Gallery of Art

It's rare to be able to see the turning point in an artist's career so easily. For Thomas Moran it was his trip to Yellowstone, but wait I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start over.

First there was Albert Bierstadt, who 12 years prior traveled to Yosemite. With the sketches created on the trip, Bierstadt enticed the people with his huge masterpieces the grandeur in California. They made people want to travel to the West.

Next came Thomas Moran, who, prompted by a magazine job where he simply reworked another artist's amateurish illustrations of the far-off lands, found his destiny. Thomas Moran had vision. He decided that he would be the first artist to document the beauty of these new found lands in the Wyoming, the place called "Yellowstone."  With a short time he had borrowed money to pay his own way to be part of this westward expansion. See Yellowstone. The money paid for him to join F V Hayden's survey expedition to Yellowstone. Before even reaching Yellowstone he was in awe when he saw the remarkable Green Cliffs in Wyoming.
This is the first sketch he
 created on the trip. Not surprisingly, it's of the green cliffs.

Moran's watercolors  that were one of the key reasons the US government decided to begin to take care of our precious Western riches. They created Yellowstone National Park.
field sketch
Amazingly, Moran worked from these sketches (and more) for the rest of his life.  In his studio, equipped with his memory and the sketches he created the many masterpieces we know.

When thinking about my upcoming trip to the Sedona Plein Air Festival I decided it was time to do and in depth study of Moran's work, in particular, his use of color. Downtown, at the National Gallery of Art, we are fortunate to have the beautiful Moran painting, Green Cliffs, Wyoming (top of post). It was gifted to the museum just last year. He painted this one ten years after his trip out West- Talk about a remarkable memory!

Now, onto the hows. Moran's drama and use of nuetrals to create that drama is key to this painting.  Only the main event has high chroma. What strikes me most is the grays. Why does that red cliff glow? It is embraced by a variety of gorgeous grays that's why. Nothing in the painting meets the intensity of the cliff, everything simply supports it. There is only one diva and it is truly obvious. Even though Moran was a Luminist (second half of the Hudson River School time period) his work was not the typical smooth, strokeless surface. In this painting he seemed to use both a very wet brush and even a palette knife at times.

The best way to study a painting is to paint it.  So this is my version- in pastel. I didn't feel the need to copy it. Instead I wanted to understand his use of layering to create his color vibration. I also chose to keep marks in the pastel rather than smoothing them. I only needed about 15 pastels, mostly it was repeated color, tinted or shaded.

Special note: Thomas Moran later became to be known as the Father of the National Parks. Thank you Thomas! There is a link to a gallery of his works.
my version, pastel

Here are my boxes of paintings(for the pre-show)  and frames ready for Sedona.


Leah Noonan said...

Interesting. I wasn't familiar with the work of Thomas Moran prior to this reading. I like your version, especially the sky (of course).
Have fun in Sedona. I'll be with you in spirit!

loriann signori said...

Thanks Leah! Thomas Moran has created beautiful work. I do hope to travel to Yellowstone one day. Thanks about my version. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!