Thomas Moran – Painter of Yellowstone

Thomas Moran pic Thomas Moran, one of the painters featured in the collections of the Denver Art Museum’s Petrie Institute of Western American Art, used an innovative lithography process to paint stunning dreamscapes of the natural world of the American West. His works were on display in a recent DAM exhibit, Thomas Moran’s Yellowstone: A Project for the Nation.

The English-born Moran, who immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland, with his parents as a young child, received training in the European landscape tradition and modeled his initial works on those of early-19th-century British painter J. M. W. Turner. In 1871, Moran joined the Hayden expedition, which set out to conduct surveying of the lands along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. Created over the 40-day trip, Moran’s depictions of dozens of landscapes captured the attention of a curious nation so much that he earned the nickname “Yellowstone.” These renderings of the region’s magnificent mountain scenery were used to persuade congress to establish the park.

Moran took the sketches and watercolor drawings that he had made on site during the expedition, as well as photographs by his friend William Henry Jackson, as the basis for a series of large-scale oil paintings. He also used the watercolors as the foundations of what would become, through a process called chromolithography, a set of stunning color images in the days before color photography. The process made use of more than 50 lithographic stones applied in layers, thus resulting in jewel-like images.

The DAM’s recent Moran exhibition included works such as Hot Springs of Gardiner’s River, The Towers of Tower Falls, and The Great Blue Spring of the Lower Geyser Basin.