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Cortés Tower, Mexico / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

Above a steep, rocky gorge topped with lush, green vegetation stands the gleaming tower of the Palace of Cortés. Located in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and constructed in the 1530s, the palace and its tower are among the oldest structures built by Europeans in the Americas.1 Thomas Moran depicted the edifice in radiant white highlighted with soft tans, touches of lavender, and even a blush of pink. The artist used a similar pastel palette in the light-suffused sky above the tower to counter the inky blue storm clouds gathering over the canyon. Moran based the painting on sketches completed during a trip he took through Mexico in 1883.2

Moran often portrayed the same subject in different mediums, and he also created an etching of this site, A Tower of Cortés — Mexico (14.392a-l). In etched works, artists rely on composition, line, and subtle tonal variations rather than color to suggest mood or a sense of place. Moran chose a daytime view for the painting, but for the etching, he portrayed the moon rising under a thick blanket of clouds. This suggests a somewhat turbulent atmosphere, which the artist has conveyed in the painting through the colors of the storm clouds. Moreover, for the etched work, Moran made detailed renderings of the verdant tropical vegetation, and he included a sweeping line of palm trees on the horizon. Various shades of green, however, indicate these plants and palms in the painting.

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

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1 Fernández, A Guide to Mexican Art, 67–68, 159–60. Europeans began building a structure in the 1520s on a site used by the Aztecs to collect tribute for their rulers, and Spaniard Hernán Cortés selected this location in the 1530s for his residence as a real and symbolic assertion of power. But it was also an ideal location for a defensive structure as it provided an expansive view of the region. Four hundred years later, in 1929, Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886–1957) created a fresco for the loggia at the back of the palace depicting the history of Cuernavaca and Morelos from the Spanish occupation through the 1910 Mexican Revolution. The palace is now a museum.
2 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 234–38.

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Title(s): 
Cortés Tower, Mexico; Cortez Tower, Mexico
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1883
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1964
Accession No: 
01.2346
Previous Number(s): 
0126.2346; 34329
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint with colophon, "TMoran. 1883." in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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