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Crescentville / Thomas Moran


“You need not a period of pupilage in an artist’s studio. . . . let me earnestly recommend to you one Studio which you may freely enter . . . —the Studio of Nature.”1
—Asher B. Durand

When he was young, Thomas Moran was inspired by a variety of aesthetic influences and ideologies. Most artists in the United States during the nineteenth century were familiar with the works of artist Asher B. Durand (1796–1886), as well as his “Letters on Landscape Painting,” published in the art journal The Crayon.2 Durand encouraged artists to sketch directly from nature to develop their drawing skills and powers of observation, and Moran had cultivated this lifelong habit early in his career. His sketching style, however, could be eclectic. At times, his drawings are dense, with an abundance of detail-laden elements, but at other times they are sparse, with a pronounced brevity of form. Some of his sketches, such as Crescentville, exhibit all of these characteristics simultaneously.3

Although the tree that dominates this composition is not as fully realized as the trees in the background, its sparseness and stark profile against the sky attracts our attention. We can see how Moran is working out the skeletal structure of the tree, the network of branches that springs from its trunk, the texture of the bark as suggested by variation in shading—all the things that made this tree distinctive. For as Durand advised, “If your subject be a tree, observe particularly wherein it differs from those of other species . . . best seen when relieved on the sky.”4

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

1 Durand, “Letters on Landscape Painting, Letter I,” 2.
2 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 12; and Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, 11, 142.
3 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 47. Crescentville was a suburb of Philadelphia, where Moran’s future wife, Mary Nimmo, resided. Around 1858 the Moran family moved from the Philadelphia suburb of Kensington to Crescentville.
4 Durand, “Letters on Landscape Painting, Letter II,” 34.

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Thomas Moran (Artist)
Hudson River School
graphite on paper
Portrait; single-sided 0.160- 0.174 mm Machine made, wove, dark cream in color. The fibers or oriented along the shorter side of the support. The main image is on the wire side of the paper. Transmitted light reveals an even distribution of fibers.
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1326.759; 18777
Not On View

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