American, 1837–1926

Thomas Moran

“In the late nineteenth century, the paintings, lithographs, and etchings of Thomas Moran were largely responsible for publicizing the natural wonders of the American West. Employing the coloristic style of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, Moran sought to capture the spiritual essence rather than the literal truth of what were to become eight national parks and monuments. To Moran, as to others, the landscape of the West was uniquely American.

Thomas Moran was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, in 1837. His family came to the United States in 1844 and settled in Philadelphia. At the age of sixteen, Moran was apprenticed to the wood-engraving firm of Scattergood and Telfer. Through his employers, he sold many of the drawings and watercolors that he produced in his spare time. He exchanged many of the drawings and watercolors that he produced in his spare time. He exchanged others for books on poetry and art. A severe attack of rheumatic fever caused him to leave the firm in 1856, after only three years. Following his recovery, Moran made his debut as a professional artist by exhibiting six watercolors at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He shared the first of several studios with his older brother, the marine painter Edward Moran (1829–1901). Later, they were joined by their younger brother Peter (1841–1914).

Although he had no formal training as a painter, Thomas Moran benefited during the formative stages of his career from the advice of the marine painter James Hamilton (1819–1878). Under his influence Moran studied the work of the popular British landscape and marine painter J.M.W. Turner. Moran, who owned copies of Turner’s Liber Studiorum and the Rivers of France, became an enthusiastic admirer and painted many watercolors based on Turner’s prints. Most of Moran’s early works, however, were romantic, imaginative illustrations for such works as Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, which remained one of his favorite poems throughout his life.

On July 23, 1860, Moran made the first of many trips to the American frontier, traveling to Lake Superior with another artist, Isaac L. Williams (1817–1895). Moran’s drawings and impressions of this trip were made into wood engravings for the periodical the Aldine, illustrations for The Song of Hiawatha, lithographs, and oil paintings. Like his later studies, they served him again and again throughout his career.

By the time Thomas and Edward Moran left Philadelphia for England in 1861, Thomas Moran had attained a local reputation as an artist. In London, while his brother studied at the Royal Academy, Moran made a careful study of Turner’s paintings and watercolors in the National Gallery. He was fascinated by Turner’s dynamic effects and luminous colors. Although thoroughly familiar with Turner’s black and white engravings, he was “stunned by the radiance” of color in the paintings themselves, “which he had not imagined but which he, himself, found literally glowing in the Yellowstone country, later on in his life” (R. Moran, American Magazine of Art 17 [Dec. 1926], p. 645). In order to master the techniques, he copied several of Turner’s oils and watercolors. Moran was also impressed by the compositional strength in the paintings of Claude Lorrain. During the summer, he studied at the new South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and made sketching trips to into the English countryside, often choosing the same subjects that Turner had painted.

Moran returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1862 and married Mary Nimmo (1842–1899), a former student of his, who later became a successful etcher. During the following years, he continued to provide illustrations for major periodicals and to exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy and at James S. Earle’s gallery. Most of his work was based on sketches from his trips to Lake Superior and England, although occasionally he used sketches by other artists. He also taught during the 1860s at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

In 1866 Moran returned to Europe with his family for a year. After a brief visit to London to show his wife the paintings by Turner, they traveled to Paris, where he studied the paintings in the Louvre and the Luxembourg and sketched the countryside near Dieppe and Fontainebleau. His reaction to contemporary French painting, however, was contemptuous: “French art…scarcely rises to the dignity of landscape—a swamp and a tree constitute its sum total” (Sheldon, p. 127). Moran also studied the old masters in Italy, where he found a special kinship with the romantic feeling, beauty, and warmth of color in Italian art.

During the years following their return from Europe, Moran worked as an illustrator for several periodicals in New York. After the Civil War, magazines such as the Aldine and Scribner’s Monthly eagerly reported on the trips of United States government survey teams to the western frontier. In 1871 Scribner’s published Nathaniel P. Langford’s “Wonders of the Yellowstone” with illustrations by Moran, based on the crude sketches of an anonymous soldier. The same year, Thomas Moran joined Dr. Ferdinand Hayden’s expedition to the Yellowstone region. Also on the expedition was the photographer William H. Jackson. Jackson and Moran recorded the breathtaking sights in a spectacular series of delicate pencil drawings, often washed with color and carefully annotated. He later used these to illustrate Hayden’s reports and articles for Scribner’s, as well as to compose his own oil paintings. The largest of these, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, was purchased in 1872 by the United States Congress for $10,000 and hung in the Capitol. This painting established Moran’s reputation as the preeminent artist of the American West and gave him the nickname Tim “Yellowstone” Moran.

Moran made a number of other trips west. IN 1872 he visited Yosemite Valley in California, and the next year he accompanied Major John Wesley Powell’s geographical and geological survey of the Rocky Mountain region, traveling through the brilliantly colored mountains of Utah and visiting the Grand Canyon. In 8174 he joined the Hayden in Colorado. In 1879 he traveled to the region of the Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada and to Lake Tahoe; then, with a military escort, he explored the Teton Mountains of Wyoming, visiting the peak that Dr. Hayden had named Mount Moran in his honor.

Thomas Moran also occasionally traveled abroad, to England and Scotland in 1882 and 1910, Mexico in 1883, and Italy in 1886 and 1890. The Morans moved to New York in 1872. In 1884 they built a summer studio at East Hampton on Long Island. Beginning in 1916, however, Moran spent his winters in Santa Barbara, California, moving there permanently in 1922. He died four years later in his Santa Barbara home.

Many of Moran’s later paintings depict Venice and show the strong influence of Turner in their luminous color and vibrant brushstrokes. Others that Moran painted while he was living on Long Island recall the marshes of the Barbizon painters, but newly infused with brilliantly colored skies.

Moran’s watercolors and oil paintings were widely exhibited in the United States and England. In 1884 he was named an academician at the National Academy of Design. He also exhibited at and was a member of the American Watercolor Society and the New York Etching Club. The two major repositories of his papers are the East Hampton Free Library and the Gilcrease Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

(Doreen Bolger Burke, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Works by Art and Artists Born between 1846 and 1864, New York, 1980, vol. III).

Museum Collections:
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Akron Museum, Akron, OH
Allen Art Museum, Oberlin, OH
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX
Block Museum of Art, Evanston, IL
Bolton Art Gallery, Bolton
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Canton Museum of Art, Canton, OH
Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, WI
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, NY
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK
Cummer Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA
Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, CA
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Norman, OK
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE
Juniata College Museum of Art, Huntingdon, PA
Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg, VA
Memorial art Gallery, Rochester, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Museum of the American West Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, CA
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Academy of Design Museum, New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK
Orlando Museum of Art, FL
Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, NY
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS
St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, VT
Stark Museum of Art, Orange, TX
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL
University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, VA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA
Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, KS

Mark Murray Fine Paintings is a New York gallery specializing in buying and selling 19th century and early 20th century artwork. 

Paintings for sale

Currently there are no available Thomas Moran paintings for sale at the Mark Murray Gallery.

Please contact us if you are interested in selling your Thomas Moran paintings or other artwork from the 19th century and early 20th century. 

Thomas Moran Paintings Previously Sold

THOMAS MORAN    Landscape near Cuernavaca, Mexico  (1905)  Oil on cradled panel 14 x 20 inches (35.6 x 50.8 cm)  SOLD

Landscape near Cuernavaca, Mexico (1905)
Oil on cradled panel
14 x 20 inches (35.6 x 50.8 cm)

THOMAS MORAN    Conwy Castle, North Wales  (1917)  Oil on canvas 25 x 36 inches (63.5 x 91.4 cm)  SOLD  Click here for more information

Conwy Castle, North Wales (1917)
Oil on canvas
25 x 36 inches (63.5 x 91.4 cm)
Click here for more information


For more information on Thomas Moran, see these additional resources:
National Gallery of Art:
National Park Service Yellowstone National Park Musuem Collection Includes the Diary of Thomas Moran:
The Athenaeum: