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Moonlight on Napeague Beach, Montauk Point / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

A buff-colored path leads us into the dunes on Long Island’s Montauk Point. Although darkness shrouds the landscape, a full moon hugs the horizon and lights our way. We can imagine a quiet walk on the beach, a light breeze rippling through the foliage, and the sound of the waves gently lapping against the shore. Thomas Moran is perhaps best known for his paintings of the vast canyons, grand waterfalls, and towering rock formations of the American West, but he also produced quietly contemplative works such as this. He created the painting a few years after the death of his wife, fellow artist Mary Nimmo Moran (1847–1899). He may have made the work in her memory, as the couple had established a home on Long Island, and Montauk held a special significance in their lives.1

The beach at Montauk served as a military encampment during the Spanish-American War (April–December 1898). It was initially a training center; as the war ended, two hospitals were added to care for wounded soldiers and those returning from Cuba with typhoid fever. Both Nimmo Moran and the Morans’ daughter Ruth were among the women of East Hampton who volunteered to bring donated supplies to the hospitals and accompany soldiers on restorative walks on the beach during what could be long convalescences. Early in 1899, Ruth contracted typhoid and Nimmo Moran took care of her daughter while she recuperated. In September, Nimmo Moran became ill with typhoid herself and died two weeks later.2 After his wife’s death, Moran traveled extensively, returning infrequently to Long Island. On one such occasion, he created this portrayal of Montauk Point, perhaps as a tribute to his wife and her generous care for the soldiers even though it brought tragedy to their lives.

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

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1 Morand and Friese, Prints of Nature, 7. The Morans began visiting East Hampton, Long Island, in 1878, and in 1883–84 built a home and studio on its Main Street. Both artists portrayed the locale in their work, although Nimmo Moran was perhaps better known for her depictions of East Hampton. The couple also featured Montauk in a few of their etched works, such as Nimmo Moran’s The Montauk Hills, Long Island (14.108e), and Moran’s Montauk Point (14.403b) and A Wreck — Montauk (14.426a).
2 Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, 127.

Curatorial Remarks

See the Gilcrease manuscript collection, 4027.3969.3, for Ruth Moran's handwritten notes on the typhoid epidemic. Sandra Pauly 4.26.22

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Title(s): 
Moonlight on Napeague Beach, Montauk Point
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (After)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1901
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
01.2336
Previous Number(s): 
0127.2336; 25448
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint with colophon, “MORAN. N.A. 1901." in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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