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Conwy Castle / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

In this watercolor sketch by Thomas Moran, the crenelated towers of Conwy Castle float apparition-like amidst expanses of ivory sky, blue water, and gray-green land. The only signs of human habitation are the masts of the sailing ships in the bay. Located on an estuary at the mouth of the River Conwy near the coast of northern Wales, the town and citadel date to the thirteenth century, the fortress built during the conquest of Wales by Britain’s King Edward I.1

In 1882, Moran traveled to England, Scotland, and Wales with his wife, Mary Nimmo Moran (1842–1899). The trip was productive for both artists, and they frequently portrayed the same subjects. Moran emulated the works of his near contemporary, British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), whose portrayals of Conwy focused on the grand citadel.2 In Nimmo Moran’s depiction of Conwy Castle (14.66a), a group of beached skiffs vie with the fortress for our attention. The emphasis she places on the boats suggests the influence of one of her contemporaries, James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), and his etchings from the 1860s depicting the docks of London.3 Although the couple’s creative influences differed, they both engaged in an artistic dialogue with the art of their time when depicting this historic castle.

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

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1 Conwy Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See its entry on the UNESCO World Heritage website under “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd,” United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
2 Three years before this trip, Moran portrayed Conwy Castle in an etching (14.391a) after a painting allegedly by Turner, which Moran owned. The painting reportedly by Turner is lost, but Gilcrease has a photograph (4316.5682) of the artwork. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 188–89; Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 64–65.
3 For Whistler’s influence on Nimmo Moran, see Vittoria, “Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran,” 173–77.

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Title(s): 
Conwy Castle; Conway Castle
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1882
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.804
Previous Number(s): 
0276.804; 20872
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.Moran 1882" in lower left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Conway Castle" in lower left on recto; Inscribed by hand in black ink, "35. Conway." on support in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "53" on support in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "11 3/4 +17 3/4" on support in center right on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "53 Conway Castle. N. Wales 1882" on support in lower left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "NOT FOR SALE" on support in lower right on recto; Inscribed by hand in ink, "n. 9." on support in upper left on verso; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "B 35" on support in upper left on verso.
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