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This Chic Evening Gown is of White Satin and Golden Net - Metamorphosis / Thomas Moran


At first glance, viewers might not be sure what the subject of this image is, or its medium. Is this an old photograph of a snow-covered mountain and a stream or is it a glacier? Perhaps a faded print of a valley with mist-enshrouded hills in the distance? The title only adds to our confusion. Why would Thomas Moran, noted for his landscapes, give this work a title that refers to an item of clothing? Yet there is a clue in the last word: metamorphosis. Are we looking at the transformation of an article of clothing into a landscape? Now we are on the right track, and the medium—white gouache, pencil, and newsprint—tells the rest of the story.1

During the winter of 1900, Moran began creating what he called “metamorphoses.” After working all day on a painting or print, he relaxed by reading the evening newspaper, and he found that the illustrations accompanying an article or advertisement sometimes reminded him of landscapes. The artist in Moran seemingly never rested, not even in his leisure time, so he went back to work. He erased some sections of the image, reworked it a bit with his pencil, and then used white gouache to create highlights or other alterations.2 Here, Moran transmutes the curving line of an evening gown into a mountain landscape with a stream or even a glacier.

Although Moran did not produce his metamorphoses until late in his career, they reflect how his creative mind worked—editing and revising an image until the desired composition emerged.3 Moran did not sell or exhibit the metamorphoses, but he did keep them. Although initially they may have been done merely for amusement, they appear to have become a creative exercise that had some value for the artist. Gilcrease Museum owns ten of the metamorphoses, and another one hundred and seventy-seven are in the East Hampton Library’s collection of works by Moran.4

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

1 Because Moran altered the newspaper illustrations, it is difficult to ascertain whether they were originally wood engravings or halftone prints; the latter were most likely during the early twentieth century.
2 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 283.
3 Hansen, “Thomas Moran and Nineteenth-Century Printmaking,” 15–16.
4 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 283. Including This Chic Evening Gown, Gilcrease has ten metamorphoses: French Battleship Jena in Italian Seaport — Metamorphosis (1927.1), Miss Florence B. Schmieg — Metamorphosis (1927.2), Afternoon Wrap of Lace and Moleskin — Metamorphosis (1927.3), The Fan — Metamorphosis (1927.4), The Student — Metamorphosis (1927.6), The Maiden Lane Dealer Weighing a Shipment of Diamonds — Metamorphosis (1927.7), Marianne Flahaut as Amneris in “Aida” — Metamorphosis (1927.8), Mrs. Mary J. Wilhelm — Metamorphosis (1927.9), and A Quiet River — Metamorphosis (1927.10).

Curatorial Remarks

See also 4027.3957 Ruth Moran's comparison of Thomas Moran to "Modern" artists.
Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research 5.18.22

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This Chic Evening Gown is of White Satin and Golden Net - Metamorphosis
Thomas Moran (Author)
Hudson River School
white gouache and graphite on newsprint
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1927.5; 30711
Not On View

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