Since the opening of Through Eagles’ Eyes: Painters of the Hudson River School, we have enjoyed a steady stream of visitors eager to see the show. Yesterday a family based out of California stopped in for the exhibition and while standing in front of Thomas Moran’s Red Rock, Arizona (Coconino Pines and Cliff, Arizona), our conversation quickly turned to the topic of the artist’s involvement in the establishment of Yellowstone as the United States’ first National Park in 1872. I find it pleasantly refreshing when an artist’s work has a certain quality that can initiate and fuel a dialogue or exchange, and Moran’s artistic career has consistently demonstrated the ability to so. The travel journals he kept have enabled generations of readers to experience first-hand his adventures throughout the American West, and today his artistic reach continues to travel even further—across the Atlantic!—in the exhibition Naughton and Moran: Paintings of the American West, which is currently open at the Bolton Museum and Library Services in the United Kingdom.
As the culmination of a project funded by the University of Bolton’s Arts Council, Naughton and Moran: Paintings of the American West is an exhibition of paintings by British artist James Naughton, who spent twelve months traveling in Moran’s footsteps, visiting and painting some of Moran’s favorite locations in the United States, including Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountain Range in the Grand Teton National Park. Rather than keeping a travel diary as Moran had, Naughton emulated him in a modern manner by blogging about his experiences throughout the entire duration of the trip. At the beginning of his journey, Naughton defined his sense of purpose, writing:
Thomas Moran has already been like a teacher to me, he’s already given me a painting lesson. I’ve looked at the way he uses paint to evoke an experience. It is my notion that by seeing the sources of his great works I will get the second half of the lesson not just about painting but also the true nature of his art.
Naughton’s posts reveal his fervent admiration for the Hudson River School artist, as well as his curiosity about Moran’s initial encounter with the American West:
On the surface I can imagine he must have thought himself blessed with an incredible opportunity, in being the first great painter of his generation to see this New World, creatively he could claim it, make it his territory and he did, later in life referring to himself as Thomas ‘Yellowstone’ Moran.
This exhibition highlights the enduring influence Thomas Moran has had on subsequent generations of artists, and also emphasizes the perpetual inspiration offered by Hudson River School paintings. On view through November 16, 2014, Naughton and Moran: Paintings of the American West offers the unique opportunity to witness a modern interpretation of the natural American landscape, while simultaneously giving a nod of appreciation to American tradition.