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Buttes, Green River, Wyoming / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

Thomas Moran’s depictions of the Green River area number more than one hundred and include oil paintings, etchings, wood engravings, chromolithographs, and sketches.1 The artist not only portrayed the region frequently but also visited on several occasions, including in 1881 after an exhausting year of travel finding vistas to sketch for three separate commissions. Moran first journeyed to Niagara Falls that year, then traveled to the Virginias and Maryland, with his last trip an excursion through Colorado and New Mexico. Before he headed home to the East Coast, however, he took a detour to Wyoming’s Green River, where he had first sketched the American West a decade earlier.

In this intriguing watercolor from the 1881 visit, Moran depicts the buttes at Green River in two distinct registers, one above the other, capturing something of the sweeping line of these “castles” of the western landscape. The artist generally portrayed the waterway in the foreground, with Castle Rock, the largest of the formations, on the opposite shore, and the smaller buttes of the Palisades in the distance. Here he renders the buttes from behind, and we cannot see the river. Moran periodically employed the odd compositional device of inserting one sketch above another, even as early as 1862 when he sketched Great Britain’s castle, Windsor (13.895). Moreover, the forms of the towering edifices in this watercolor bear a striking resemblance to Moran’s sketches of European citadels such as the Palace of the Caesars, Rome (02.941) and Conwy Castle (02.804).

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

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1 Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, 29. The best known of the oil paintings are Cliffs of Green River, Wyoming (1909–10), which is part of the White House Collection, Washington, D.C., and Green River Cliffs, Wyoming (1881; 2011.2.1), in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The following Green River artworks (02.885, 02.898, 02.891, 02.930, 13.551, 13.964, 13.909, 13.910, 13.911, 13.913, 13.970, 14.437a, and 15.414) are in the Gilcrease collection.

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Title(s): 
Buttes, Green River, Wyoming; Green River
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
English American
Date: 
September 20, 1881
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.898
Previous Number(s): 
0236.898; 36024
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.Moran." in upper 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, "Green River Sept 20th 1881" in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Rain" in upper right on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Larger" in center left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "shadow green at bottom" in upper center on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "not here" in center left on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "wider" in center right on recto; Inscribed by hand in black ink, "No. 32." in upper left on verso.
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