Thomas Moran was born on February 12, 1837 in Bolton in Lancashire, England, the son of a hand-loom weaver. His family, including brothers Edward and Peter, emigrated to the United States in 1844. He grew up in Philadelphia where he was apprenticed to a wood engraver, sketching designs on the blocks. His older brother, Edward, who was an established landscape painter, provided Thomas with his first art lessons.
Moran worked initially with watercolor but soon turned to oil. He exhibited his first oil in 1858 and made his first sketching trip westward in 1860, to Lake Superior. He continued his studies with local artist James Hamilton but in 1861-62 he returned to England with brother Edward where they fell under the influence of J.M.W. Turner while copying his works. Moran went to Europe again in 1866-67, meeting another influence, Corot, and making studies of Venice.
In 1871, Moran found the subject matter for the rest of his life when he made his first trip to the West with F.V. Hayden's Yellowstone surveying expedition. He was to work in Yosemite the following year where additional visual impressions became the backdrop for many of his future works.
Moran continued to travel almost every year to the most notable locations in Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Europe, and Mexico. He would return to his studio, successively in Philadelphia, Newark, Long Island, Pasadena (1916) and Santa Barbara (1922), to paint from the many sketches made during his travels. When Moran was just 36, he painted the Grand Canyon of the Colorado which Congress bought along with a Yellowstone painting for $10,000 each in 1873.
Moran's style is often likened to Turner and sometimes to Corot. His versatility and technical correctness enabled him to adopt the characteristics of many masters. A master of composition and pictorial effectiveness, his paintings are smooth and glossy to the point of resembling a mechanical print.
In contrast to Bierstadt and Thomas Hill, Moran's Western paintings, with the distinctive monogram developed in 1873 and the thumbprint affixed from 1911, remained in demand during his entire career. He remains internationally famous for his panoramic landscapes of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon. Mount Moran in the Tetons and Moran Point in Yosemite are both named after him.
Moran painted his emotions as landscape: "I place no value upon literal transcriptions from Nature. All my tendencies are toward idealization. A place as a place has no value in itself for the artist. While I desire to tell truly of Nature, I do not wish to realize the scene literally but to convey its true impression." Still debunking modern art on his deathbed at 90, he saw his own yet-to-be painted landscapes on the ceiling and talked of them. Moran died in Santa Barbara in 1926.
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