Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran (1837–1926), born in Bolton, England was an American painter and printmaker based in New York. His pictures of the Rocky Mountains made him world-famous. Sometimes described as belonging to the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters along with Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Hill (1829–1908), Moran’s stunning western landscapes established his international and enduring legacy as one of America’s premier landscape painters.

Early in his career, Moran was hired as an illustrator at Scribner’s Monthly. By the mid-1850s he was drawing the firm’s illustrations for publication rather than carving them, and he began studying with local painter James Hamilton who introduced him to the work of British artist J.M.W. Turner. During the late 1860s, he was appointed the chief illustrator of the magazine. Moran traveled to England in 1862 to see Turner’s work, and he often acknowledged that artist’s influence on his use of color and choice of landscapes. During the 1870s and 1880s Moran’s designs for wood-engraved illustrations appeared in several important magazines.

Moran’s images of the western landscape were crucial in shaping notions of the West in the collective American conscience, and pivotal in the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Funded by Jaye Cooke, American financier and director of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and Scribner’s Monthly, Moran joined the survey team of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 in their exploration of the Yellowstone region. During the expedition, Moran documented dozens of sites and his sketches, along with photographs produced by survey member William Henry Jackson, captured the nation’s attention and helped persuade President Grant and the United States Congress that Yellowstone should be preserved. Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872. Proud of the role he played, Moran adopted a new signature, TYM, standing for Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. After the Hayden expedition, Moran began publishing in various periodicals and produced numerous large-scale paintings of the American West, including The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872) and Chasm of the Colorado (1873–74), which were purchased by the US Congress to hang in the Capitol, and are now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He continued to travel widely and paint over the span of his long career.

Thomas Moran (1837–1926) Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872
Oil on canvas mounted on aluminum, 84 x 144¼ inches
Collection Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, lent by the Department of the Interior Museum, Office of the Secretary, L. 1968.84.1


Thomas Moran (1837–1926) Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, 1859
Oil on canvas, 29¼ x 44⅛ inches
Signed and dated lower right: T. Moran. / 1859.

Image courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC