Gilcrease Museum is temporarily closed for construction.

Get the Full Story

Print A: Conwy Castle

Essay/Description

Mary Nimmo Moran took an unusual compositional approach to her depiction of Wales’s Conwy Castle. The fortress, in the middle ground, and the sailing vessels, in the foreground, occupy almost the same amount of pictorial space, and the artist lavished detail on both. Thus, despite the title, we are unsure which is the subject of the work. Our eyes move back and forth, exploring both the citadel and skiffs almost simultaneously. The boats look to be in good repair, most probably contemporary vessels still in use, although they hark back to older sailing traditions. The stone walls of the citadel appear well maintained, the structure possibly still serviceable although it dates to the thirteenth century, far older than the wooden boats. Both are from a preindustrial age, however, and that seems to be the point—this was an old world that a new age had not yet intruded upon.

As art historian Shannon Vittoria points out, Nimmo Moran’s work often signals a nostalgia for a simpler time, before the industrial revolution. As she also observes, the artist responded to current trends in the arts, and images such as this suggest the influence of her contemporary James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). Whistler focused on the mundane aspects of contemporary life in his etchings, and Nimmo Moran likewise immersed herself in the commonplace for her work.1 An exhibition of Whistler’s etchings was held in New York City in December 1881, just before Nimmo Moran traveled to Europe with her husband, fellow artist Thomas Moran (1837–1926).2 If they attended the exhibition, the imagery would have been fresh in her mind when she created this etching.

In Conwy Castle, the bold compositional choice of dramatically foregrounding the sailing vessels and allocating them an equal amount of space as the castle results in some flattening of the pictorial space, which is rather Whistlerian. As Vittoria points out, Japanese printmakers such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) influenced Whistler. Following their lead for his inventive compositions, Whistler used low vantage points and bird’s-eye views, devices that can also flatten the pictorial space. Although Nimmo Moran used traditional, European frontal perspective in her work,3 Conwy Castle suggests a tension in her oeuvre—a reliance on older pictorial traditions coupled with an impulse to embrace progressive aesthetic ideas.4

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

_____________________________
1 Vittoria, “Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran,” 173–74. Although Nimmo Moran is known to have etched without the aid of a preparatory drawing, there is one for this work: Conwy Castle (18.6.30).
2 Vittoria, “Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran,” 178.
3 Vittoria, “Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran,” 177.
4 Conwy Castle helped establish Nimmo Moran’s international reputation as a printmaker. Exhibited in 1883 in Vienna, it was subsequently reproduced in a Viennese publication on the history of etching. Vittoria, “Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran,” 267.

You may be interested in...

Title(s): 
Print A: Conwy Castle; Conway Castle
Creator(s): 
Mary Nimmo Moran Moran (Author)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1882
Materials/Techniques: 
printing ink on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
14.66a
Previous Number(s): 
1426.66A; 11780
Department: 
Not On View

Our Online Collections site is a work in progress. If you have information about this item that may be of assistance, please contact us.