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The Peak of Orizaba from Esperanza / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

“We reached Esperanza at two o’clock. This point is some 12000 feet above Vera Cruz and here we had a fine view of the snow covered peak rising about 5000 feet above us against an intensely blue sky. It was a grand sight.”1 —Thomas Moran in a letter to Mary Nimmo Moran, 1883

Thomas Moran’s sketch The Peak of Orizaba from Esperanza displays a remarkable economy of line and color, yet admirably captures the majestic, snow-clad summit rising in the distance. This inactive volcano, called Citlaltépetl by the Aztecs, is the highest mountain in Mexico.2 Moran’s visit to the country was probably the result of his acquaintance with William J. Palmer, the founder of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.3 Two years earlier, Palmer’s rail line provided Moran with accommodations while he sketched locations in Colorado and New Mexico to fulfill various commissions.4

Palmer’s newest venture was the Mexican National Railroad, with Moran conceivably supplying artworks for promotional materials. In January 1883, the artist traveled by ship to Veracruz, where the rail line began. He rode the train’s two-hundred-mile route to Mexico City, sketching there and in the neighboring town of Maravatío. Moran then took the train through to the line’s terminus at Acámbaro and continued his journey via burro and mule-train to Saltillo, Monterrey, and Nuevo Laredo, creating more drawings all along the way.5 During his two-month visit to the country, the artist produced ninety-three sketches—more than he assembled during any other single trip—which provided inspiration for later oil paintings and etchings.6

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

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1 Moran in Bassford and Fryxell, Home-thoughts, from afar, 64–65.
2 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 68.
3 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 233.
4 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 210. William Blackmore of Great Britain was one of the principal financiers of Palmer’s Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Blackmore commissioned a set of watercolors of Yellowstone from Moran in 1872. Moran probably became acquainted with Palmer via his work for the British investor.
5 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 236–38. The railway eventually extended to Laredo, Texas, where it connected to rail lines in the United States. Palmer received permission from Mexico’s president, Porfirio Díaz, to invest in the Mexican National Railroad. Díaz’s three decades in power were a lucrative time for foreign investors. By 1896, American investors owned 80 percent of Mexico’s railroad stocks. A decade later, foreign investors owned one-third of the land in Mexico, with American tycoons accounting for three-quarters of that total. Edwards, New Spirits, 46.
6 Because Mexico was popular with American entrepreneurs (see notes 4 and 5), Moran may have believed images of the region would be desirable and therefore profitable. The artist’s portrayals of Mexico did not prove as popular with collectors as his later depictions of Venice, but they found buyers, such as Thomas B. Clarke, and remain an important element of his oeuvre. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 238, 261. The Gilcrease owns seventy-nine of the sketches Moran created in Mexico in addition to the oil paintings Cortés Tower, Mexico (01.2346), Venetian Seaport, Veracruz (01.1109), Fiesta at Cuernavaca (01.110), and The Cathedral at Maravatío (01.1104), and the etchings The Castle of San Juan de Ulúa, Veracruz, Mexico (14.436d), A Tower of Cortés — Mexico (14.392d), and The Harbor of Veracruz, Mexico (14.447m).

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Title(s): 
The Peak of Orizaba from Esperanza
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1883
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite with white gouache on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.827
Previous Number(s): 
0246.827; 24952
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "1883 T.Moran." in lower left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Artist's color notations and reference notes are present in sketch; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "The Peak of Orizaba from Esperanza" in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "yellow house" in lower right on recto; Pencil sketch of a structure and boats on verso.
Not On View

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