Thomas Moran

Thomas MoranBy
Armand Cabrera

Thomas Moran was born in 1837 in Bolton, England—the fifth of seven children. His father was a handloom weaver. The industrial revolution motivated the family to move to the United States to escape unemployment and poverty. The Moran family settled in Kensington, near Philadelphia. Thomas Moran’s older brother, Edward, was the first to pursue art and become a successful marine painter. Young Thomas never had any formal training but was influenced by his older brother and his brother’s studio mate, John Hamilton. Thomas began frequenting his brother’s studio by 1855 and accompanied him on sketching trips. In 1862, the brothers returned to England to study the works of J.W.M. Turner. Thomas made copies of the paintings he saw at the National Gallery, trying to replicate the color and luminosity of Turner.

When Thomas returned to America, he found work as both a fine artist and a commercial illustrator. In 1871, at the request of Scribner’s Magazine, he was to redraw an amateur’s sketches of a trip to the Yellowstone region in Wyoming. Based on the unusual terrain in the sketches, Thomas decided to visit Yellowstone for himself. He borrowed money so he could accompany a survey party that was returning to the area later that year. The trip so inspired the young artist that he dedicated his life to the depiction of the American West.

Thomas Moran never painted with oils while traveling; instead he preferred to make sketches in watercolor, gouache and pencil and later translate these into his great pictures. He was not interested in recording nature literally. For Thomas, the truth was in his impression of the place. He used all means at his disposal to heighten the effect he was after.

It is believed that Thomas Moran’s paintings helped to secure Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon as National Parks. His paintings, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Chasm of the Colorado and Mountain of the Holy Cross became icons of the American Landscape.

At the turn of the century, Thomas Moran was attacked for being outdated. However, Moran’s paintings never fell out of favor with the public. He enjoyed continued artistic success until his death at the age of ninety.

Thomas MoranNancy K. Anderson
Yale University Press

Splendors of the American West: Thomas Moran’s Art of the Grand Canyon and YellowstoneAnne Morand, Joni L. Kinsey, Mary Panzer
Birmingham Museum of Art

Thomas Moran The Field Sketches, 1856-1923Anne Morand
University of Oklahoma Press

In working I use my memory. This I have trained from youth, so that while sketching I impress indelibly upon my memory the features of the landscape and the combinations of coloring so that when back in the studio the watercolor will recall vividly all the striking peculiarities of the scenes visited. ~Thomas Moran

More on Construction in Painting

by Armand Cabrera

I want to talk more about construction for landscape painters. Figure painters know that construction is an important aspect of their training. With figure drawing and painting you learn the ideal and then adjust and apply the specific to your understanding. This type of training rarely takes place for landscape painters. Landscape painters tend to copy what they see for good or bad. While this approach can work over time, great landscape painters, like great figure painters, understand their subject on a deeper level. Their method is partly based on observation and partly on construction. It is as much from what they know about something as it is about what they see. This combination of construction and observation helps to strengthen the painting.

                                                                          Thomas Moran
 Everything has an anatomy to it; understanding this underlying structure helps you paint with a more authoritative approach. Observation alone can fool the viewer into believing they are seeing something they are not. How many times have we been fooled by some foreshortened object in the landscape thinking something looks a certain way when in reality our view of it is giving us false information? If you understand the anatomy of the thing you are looking at there is little chance for confusion since you can visualize what is going on even when its shape is distorted in your view.

William Wendt
A constructive approach can aid the design and the elegance of your depiction too. It can help with an interpretation based only in part on naturalism. Many great painters have used their understanding of the landscape and flora and fauna to create paintings truthful to nature but utterly unique to that artist. This approach requires a thorough knowledge of the subject, the ability to pick out what’s important and strip away what isn’t. For the artist, it creates a completely personal view of the world irrespective of the subject matter.

Maynard Dixon

Sunrise and Sunset Lighting

by Armand Cabrera

I am defining Sunrise/ Sunset paintings as images where the sun is placed in the picture. These situations are more difficult to pull off and the approach needed is counter intuitive to the way a painter normally handles an outdoor sketch.

Sunrise and Sunset painting are the two extreme situations of lighting that are the most tantalizing for the outdoor painter and they are the situation we all try eventually. Personally I think painting a scene with the sun it, unobstructed by anything, is an impossible task. Even paintings by my favorite artists of this subject fall short, in my eyes.

A much more effective approach is to have a scene facing the sun with its orb blocked or partially blocked by some object or meteorological phenomenon. These scenes are possible and there are many fine examples of them in the history of representational painting.
There are two general ways to approach these kinds of scenes. The first is to focus on the contrast between sky and land, relinquishing strong color for one or the other major elements and relying heavily on strong values of light and dark.

The second way to approach this subject is to key the values and color to a narrower range to heighten the overall effect of light in the scene. Both of these approaches take skill to execute effectively. The composition and the design of these scenes take on a higher degree of importance to coordinate all of the elements successfully.

Making the scene brighter around the sun requires to raise the saturation of the paint, to make it look lighter you raise the value. Many painters confuse these aspects and their paintings suffer because of it. In these kinds of scenes you must lower the saturation and the value for the rest of the painting away from the sunlight.

In my opinion paintings that are keyed to a narrow tonal and hue range are more successful than ones that rely on full range contrast for the effect.

Paintings in this article from top to bottom are, Frederick Church, William Trost Richards,Peder Monsted, Thomas Moran, William Trost Richards, and Albert Bierstadt. All copyrights belong to the respective owners.