Thomas Moran 1837–1926

William Edwin Gledhill (1888–1976)
Gelatin silver print, 1921

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

“I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature,” wrote the artist Thomas Moran in 1879. “My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are towards idealization.” Inspired by romantic literature, Moran painted canvases that transformed the West into an Edenic paradise.

As a member of several government expeditions into the West, Moran had firsthand experience with the awe-inspiring vistas he later interpreted in his work. He traveled to Yellowstone in 1871, before it became a national park, and the work that resulted from this trip helped to popularize it as a tourist destination.

Curiously, however, when westward expansion encroached upon the pristine wilderness, Moran did not include the telltale signs of civilization’s progress. Even in his old age Moran continued to paint with fervor. As one reporter observed in 1922, “He was the picture of intensity and energy. I never saw such concentration.”