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Pines in the Villa Borghese, Rome / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

At first glance, we might wonder why this is entitled Pines in the Villa Borghese, Rome as it appears that only a single pine tree fills the central portion of the page; however, a closer look reveals another pine faintly outlined in the background. Thomas Moran made this sketch with various shades of brown wash during his visit to Rome in 1867. Although merely a sketch—and one that might seem incomplete, as art historian Joni Kinsey has observed—these pines became a source of inspiration for a variety of later works1, including Solitude (14.635), a lithograph Moran made in 1869, two years after he returned to the United States.2

The twisting tree trunk seen here is repeated in the dying pine on the right in Solitude, and the umbrellalike canopy also appears in the darker of the two pines depicted in the center of the lithograph. Kinsey interprets Solitude’s two central trees as locked in a life-and-death struggle, with the lighter pine clinging to the rocky embankment, its upper branches entwined with the darker pine’s canopy for support. The dying pine to the right is an indication of what is to come. It is tempting to view Pines in the Villa Borghese, Rome in a similar manner, as a memento mori—a reminder of the inevitability of death, the barely visible outline of the tree in the background suggesting the ghost of its twin, which retains its lush canopy.

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

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1 Kinsey points out that the canopied pine also appears in two paintings that helped establish Moran’s career, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872, Smithsonian American Art Museum, lent by the Department of the Interior Museum, L.1968.84.1) and Mountain of the Holy Cross (1875, Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, 91.221.49). See Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, 37–39. The canopied pine appears in a number of Moran works, some of which are in the Gilcrease collection. It is important to note, however, that other details in an artwork as well as the overall composition can affect how we interpret the pine.
2 Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, 36–37.

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Title(s): 
Pines in the Villa Borghese, Rome; Pines in the Villa Borghese - Rome
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Author)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
March 1867
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
graphite with brown wash on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.868
Previous Number(s): 
0276.868; 30739
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.M." in lower left on recto; Signed by hand in ink, "TMoran 1867" on support in lower left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Pines in the Villa Borghese - Rome, March - 1867" in lower left on recto.
Not On View

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