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San Juan, New Mexico / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

When working in watercolor, Thomas Moran typically painted wet on dry, but in several sketches created in 1881, such as San Juan, New Mexico, he appears to be experimenting with a wet-on-wet technique.1 A soft blurring of form in the right foreground and in the landmass above the pond, as well as some pooling of color in the sky, suggests the artist applied the watercolor to wet paper. The crisper lines of the architecture indicate that Moran was working in his usual wet-on-dry-paper method for the buildings.

This watercolor sketch was one source for Moran’s etching Church of San Juan — New Mexico (14.439a-i). Here, we are looking from the rear of the church toward the bell tower, whereas the etching presents the front of the church. The other source for the etching was an image by photographer William Henry Jackson (1843–1942), which shows a frontal view of the structure.2 Jackson and Moran had collaborated earlier in their careers, during geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden’s expedition to Yellowstone in 1871. Yet, as painter-printmaker Nancy Friese points out, Moran did not copy Jackson’s photographs when creating etchings or oil paintings but used them as a reference to supplement his own field sketches.3

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

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1 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 58. Moran’s other watercolor sketches from 1881 in the Gilcrease collection include Española, New Mexico (02.848), Green River (02.898), Garden of the Gods (02.844), Ojo Caliente (02.845), Heywood Hot Springs (02.846), and Glen Eyrie (02.781).
2 See Kessell, “San Juan,” The Missions of New Mexico since 1776, available online at the National Park Service History eLibrary (nphistory.com).
3 Friese, “The Painter as Printmaker,” 41. Jackson traveled with Moran through Colorado and New Mexico in 1881 while Moran was working on commissions for a promotional publication called Colorado Tourist and Illustrated Guide and Ernest Ingersoll’s book Crest of the Continent (1885). Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 215–19.

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Title(s): 
San Juan, New Mexico; San Juan New Mexico
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1881
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.843
Previous Number(s): 
0236.843; 11463
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.Moran." in upper left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "San Juan New Mexico" in upper left on recto; Pencil sketch of a landscape on verso.
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