`Art is not nature'
THOMAS Moran is often called one of the two great painters of the Far West during the 19th century, sharing this honor with Bierstadt, who today enjoys a wider repute. In his own time, however, Moran was famous for his beautiful mountain landscapes, full of color and space, panoramas of a part of the country still largely unknown. He prospered in his work, the United States government twice paying him the then very handsome sum of $10,000 for paintings (one of Yellowstone, the other of the ``Canon of the Colorado''), his pictures even furthering the passage through Congress of a bill designed to set up national parks. It was said that ``in finding the Yellowstone Moran found himself and his reputation was made.'' He had however already made his name in some quarters before that, as an able and romantic artist. Thomas Moran's father had been a weaver in Bolton in Lancashire, a man of Irish descent, clearly very gifted, but he was unable to support his large family in the hard times of the 1830s in England.
After emigrating to Philadelphia, he flourished and was able to give his children a good education. Thomas was then only a small child, already showing his talents, as did his brothers -- four of these boys were to be artists. When he left school Thomas was indentured to a wood engraver, but, disliking the work, he broke his apprenticeship and forged ahead on his own. An avid reader, adventurous, fortunate, he soon married and went abroad with his wife, Mary.
The young couple went to England, Switzerland, and France -- even having a flat in Paris. In England, Moran was enraptured by Turner's paintings, which had a marked effect on his own style. Everywhere they went, he painted and sketched.
Meanwhile the Civil War had taken place, and in its aftermath there was a great surge of interest in the West, a longing to know what territories the Union really possessed, and what they were like. The railways were pushing out, and geologists reporting their discoveries, one of the most noted of these being Clarence King, whose ``Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevadas'' is a classic.
Another man of the hour was Ferdinand Vanderveer Hayden, a geologist and surveyor a little older than Moran. Hayden had been a surgeon during the war and afterward had taught geology. He was exactly the right person to head the scientific expedition which the government sponsored to survey Yellowstone, and he had the perspicacity to ask Moran to join him as a ``guest artist,'' thus making himself partly responsible for the appearance of those splendid, colorful views that were to delight so many. After this Moran went on another expedition, this time to Colorado, and then made a number of trips to Florida and Mexico. With his romantic cast of thought he loved wild, solitary southern landscapes.
On these journeys he made sketches and worked them up later in his studios in New York City and in Easthampton on Long Island.
The Morans maintained a comfortable, hospitable establishment in Easthampton for several decades, enriching the town with their presence and giving dances for their daughters. Thomas's studio there is described as ``exotic,'' while that in New York was ``austere,'' but wherever he worked his output was prodigious, and he seems to have been a man for all seasons.
Sometimes he would title his pictures in a manner that indicated to him their romantic significance; he did not have a literal outlook. In the same vein he would include trees and flowers that he felt were suitable to a picture, having no patience with those pedants who complained that his plants were ``wrong'' for such and such a background. The beautiful tower we see here in its romantic setting comes from what he called ``Cortez country.'' Botany and topography were, he apparently thought, all very well in their place, but that was not necessarily on a canvas.
Of Turner, Moran wrote that he ``sacrificed the actual truth of the parts to the higher truth of the whole. And he was right. Art is not nature; an aggregation of 10,000 facts may add nothing to a picture but be rather the destruction of it. The literal truth counts for nothing.''
Mt. Moran in the Tetons is named after this bold painter, who could have no more suitable and splendid memorial, considering his love for mountains and his ability to show others their beauty.
Enid Saunders Candlin