The alien U.S. landscapes of Henry “Yellowstone” Moran.

Yellowstone, Hot Springs (1892). Sketch.
Thomas Moran by Napoleon Sarony, circa 1890-1896.

Irrespective of him being one of the greatest interpreters of the American landscape, England should claim Thomas Moran (1837-1926). He was born there, in Bolton, Lancashire. He came to the states as a child, attended the Hudson River School in New York and as a fledgling artist, shared a New York studio with his older brother, the noted marine artist Edward Moran. A talented illustrator and exquisite colorist, Moran was hired as an illustrator at Scribner’s Monthly who appointed him as their chief illustrator in 1886. This position helped him launch his career.

The Great Blue Spring of the Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone (ca. 1875)
Minerva Terrace, Yellowstone, 1872.

In 1871, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr Ferdinand Hayden – prompted by a letter from Jay Cooke, director of the Northern Pacific Railroad – invited Moran to join him and his expedition team into the then unknown Yellowstone region.

Mammoth Hot Springs, top of pulpits.
William Henry Jackson, 1843-1942, photographer. c.1892.
The Civil War vet, painter, geological survey photographer and explorer, William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) in 1862.

Hayden had been all set to leave on his arduous journey when he received a letter from Cooke presenting Moran as “an artist of Philadelphia of rare genius”.Funded by Cooke, and Scribeners Monthly, Moran agreed to join the survey team. During forty days in the wilderness area, Moran visually documented over 30 different sites in one of the world’s most spectacularly unusual landscapes. His sketches, along with the awesome photography of His fellow survey member & Civil War vet, William Henry Jackson, simply knocked the nation’s eyes out. The popularity the unique Yellowstone world Moran created was instrumental to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. 

Pulpit Terraces from Above, Yellowstone National Park.
William Henry Jackson. Photocrom. c. 1898

Before the the return of Moran & Jackson from Yellowstone, all anyone knew of Yellowstone was talk. Now they saw. This made the difference. Moran’s alien planet Yellowstone vistas resembled nothing most Americans had ever seen, let alone imagined. Moran filled folks with wonder, roused curiosity and ultimately brought visitors. A year after the release of the pair’s work,  a persuaded President Grant and an inspired US Congress ensured Yellowstone was to be preserved and Yellowstone was established as the country’s first national park.

Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, 1876.

Whilst Moran’s effect on Yellowstone was huge, Yellowstone’s influence on him was significant too. Yellowstone brought him national recognition as an artist, as well as huge financial success. He even adopted a new signature: T. Y. M.  Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. Just one year after his introduction to the area, Moran cashed in on Yellowstone with his first large scale (enormous) painting of a far-western natural wonder, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which the government purchased in 1872 for $10,000. For the next two decades, he published his work in various periodicals and created hundreds of large paintings. 

Hot Springs of the Yellowstone

For forty years, Moran travelled extensively and painted prolificly. In 1892, he went back to Yellowstone with Jackson. They were invited by Elwood Mead, the state engineer of Wyoming, in preparation for a “Wyoming Exhibition” at the World’s Columbian Exhibition. This was a huge deal. Thousands of tourists were now able to visit the park, arriving by Jay Cooke’s Northern Pacific Railroad. For Moran and Jackson, their return to Yellowstone was more of a leisurely working holiday than an ardous expedition. The pair were able to take advantage of the tourist facilities, like the brand new Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone (ca. 1875)
The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone (ca. 1875)
Great Hot Springs Yellowstone Park 1893.

“After a day at Norris we left for the Grand Canyon where we stayed two days and made a great many photos,” wrote Moran, “I saw so much to sketch that I have determined to return there myself after I have been to the Geyser Basins and the lake and spend a week at work there. It is as glorious in color as ever and I was completely carried away by its magnificence. I think I can paint a better picture of it than the old one after I have made my sketches.” 

Moran sketched many more images of the Canyon on this trip than he had in 1871. Amongst them were vistas from a viewpoint named after him: “Moran Point.”

Lower Yellowstone Range (ca. 1875)
Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872
Hiawatha and the Great Sea Serpent, 1875.

And this (above). Moran also produced imaginary landscapes too.

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