Thomas Moran Featured at Gilcrease Museum


A suite of 15 chromolithographs of watercolors by Thomas Moran that comprises Yellowstone and the West: The Chromolithographs of Thomas Moran, is being featured at Gilcrease Museum through Sept. 8. The exhibit began June 8. Published by the Boston lithographic firm, L. Prang & Co., in 1876 as the portfolio, The Yellowstone National Park, and the Mountain Regions of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah, the chromolithographs were part of the first color publication about the West.

The exhibition is organized by Joslyn Art Museum, Durham Center for Western Studies and the Denver Art Museum, The Petrie Institute of Western American Art.
Accompanied by text by Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, leader of the 1871 U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Territories, the prints are recognized today as the finest chromolithographs ever produced. In 1873, Prang approached Moran, who agreed to produce a series of watercolors for the portfolio. Between 1874 and 1875, he painted 24 watercolors from which the publisher selected 15 for the portfolio. Moran relied on his sketches and watercolors from previous trips to the region as well as the photographs of William Henry Jackson, with whom Moran worked closely in the field during the 1871 survey.

Moran began sketching early in life and became highly skilled in expressing his personal responses to nature. His field studies, including drawings and watercolors, were immediate impressions that captured the essential characteristics of particular places. He drew from these studies throughout his life to produce many other related works.

Louis Prang, a prominent printer and lithographer, published chromolithographic cards and fine art reproductions in the early 1860s. Chromolithography is the process of producing colored images from lithography stones. The process is based on the principle that oil and water do not mix. The image is drawn or painted onto a smooth slab of limestone with a greased base medium. Water is applied to the stone and allowed to soak into areas not covered by the image. The stone is covered with a grease-based ink that adheres only to the image and when pressed to paper and lifted, the ink is transferred. The complexity of chromolithography lies in the fact that the process produces only one color per stone. Prang’s finest chromolithographs were produced from as many as 56 stones, all of which had to be carefully registered or aligned each time on the same print in order to achieve a fully colored image.

In addition to the chromolithographs of Yellowstone, Prang and Moran also chose scenes for the portfolio from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the canyons of southern Utah and the Great Salt Lake, as well as views from the Sierras. Moran’s emphasis on the strong forms and his affinity for rendering trees, land forms, clouds, and the natural effects of atmosphere made his works extremely popular. Upon the portfolio’s completion, Moran wrote to Prang: “It is in every respect a most sumptuous and magnificent work; and the faithfulness with which you have reproduced my water color drawings is beyond praise.”

Gilcrease Museum has contributed works from its collection to this exhibition as well, including a few watercolors from Thomas Moran’s Blackmore Series, etchings related to the regions, and oil paintings.

Drawn from the Gilcrease Collection, a separate ancillary exhibition of Thomas Moran’s works will be on view exclusively at Gilcrease Museum during this time. It will feature landscapes reflecting Moran’s extensive travels and will include scenes from the United States, Mexico, and other regions of the world.

To commemorate the exhibition, the Joslyn Art Museum in partnership with Denver Art Museum’s Petrie Institute of Western American Art will reprint the book Thomas Moran’s West: Chromolithography, High Art and Popular Taste by Joni L. Kinsey and first published by the Joslyn Art Museum in 2006.

Updated 06-25-2013

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