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The Grand Canyon / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

By the early twentieth century Thomas Moran spent most winters sketching at Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Upon his return to the East Coast, he worked up paintings from his sketches, such as this oil on canvas from 1913.1 Art critic Forbes Watson (1879–1960), who occupied rooms next to Moran’s New York City studio, related that when the artist was well into his seventies, he “continued to practice his art with astonishing regularity.” Watson noted that Moran first blocked off his canvas, and then, “using small brushes, he would finish one square of the canvas inch by inch before moving over to another square, and the peaks of sunlit mountains would appear finished on one part of the canvas before the other parts of it had been touched.”2

Watson’s description of this process reveals an artist with the skills necessary to envision the whole while portraying the parts. Moran’s working method is also intriguing if we think of it as a metaphor for the geological processes that formed the Grand Canyon. Moran first visited the canyon with Major John Wesley Powell in 1873; in his final report on the expedition, Powell wrote: “We have looked back unnumbered centuries into the past, and seen the time when the schists in the depths of the Grand Cañon were first formed as sedimentary beds beneath the sea.”3 Moran, inch by inch, square by square, portrayed the centuries in The Grand Canyon.

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

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1 Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, 164–65, 272–78. In exchange for commercial work for the railroads, Moran received rooms at the El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the canyon.
2 Forbes Watson, “Art News,” The Evening World (New York), December 18, 1926, quoted in Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 302–3, 381n7. Moran sometimes used a pencil to draw a grid on a wash or watercolor sketch, perhaps as an aid to creating a finished painting; Gilcrease owns two examples: Above Tower Fall (02.760) and Allegheny Tunnel near the Source of the Potomac (02.791).
3 Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River, 214.

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Title(s): 
The Grand Canyon
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1913
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1955
Accession No: 
01.2351
Previous Number(s): 
0127.2351; 22648
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint with colophon, "TMoran. 1913." in lower right on recto.
Not On View

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