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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Thomas Moran was not only known for his wise quotes, but he was also a talented American painter and graphic artist.

His focus was mainly on landscape painting that depicted the impressive style and vastness of the Far West.

Early Life

On Feb 12th, 1887, Thomas Moran was born as one of the seven children of Thomas Moran senior and Mary in Lancashire Bolton. The parents were handloom weavers whose skills were made unnecessary by the introduction of the power loom. His childhood was challenged by a lack of finances in the family. Thurman Wilkins his Father who was also his Biographer wanted to give his children a good future.

In 1844 he moved the family to America which is the land that he believed had a better economic opportunity. By that time, Moran was 7 years old and the journey impressed and inspired him a great deal. He enjoyed watching the waves of the waters for hours and later came up with paintings of the ocean.

Thomas Moran's family's first destination was in Baltimore and they later moved to a suburb in Philadelphia known as Kensington. At the suburb, they found themselves inside a community of immigrant textile workers. Thomas Moran was surrounded by art in his childhood where he could visit exhibitions and galleries becoming inspired by the wide range of paintings.

Early Training and Travel

Thomas grew up in a world of art and at 16 years of age, his biographer describes him as a young man who had blue eyes under his high forehead and light-brown hair. He started his training at the Philadelphia engraving firm Scattergood and Telfer where he gained skills and became one of the American top painters. The other painters, as well as professional engravers, include John William Casilear, John F. Kensett, Asher B. Durand, and George Inness.

His biographer Thurman Wilkins stated that Moran spent his daytime hours painting in watercolors and the evenings drawing in black and white using gaslight. During this time, working with color wasn’t so achievable. He would go to the shop in the morning and leave in the afternoons before considering the training invaluable.

His training went on for 3 years before he left the apprenticeship and joined his elder brother’s Edward studio. By this time, Moran was so close to becoming an expert marine painter. He later met James Hamilton, who turned out to be his idol and mentor in painting.

Moran was moved and impressed by the work of his mentor James and spent several years studying from his great work. Moran and his brother Edward moved to London where they studied and copied canvases at the National gallery. Moran spent 13 hours daily in his studio drawing inspiration from the English Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and influenced by John Ruskin, a Victorian art critic who played a role in connecting nature and society.

Moran met Mary Nimmo a Scottish-born lady in 1857 and the two got married in 1863. Mary started to train how to sketch and paint and gained skills on the same. She gave birth to Paul in 1864 and later two daughters Ruth and Mary. The family lived happily in France and later moved to Italy and Switzerland before they went back to New Jersey in America.

Career Development

Thomas Moran was a member of Hudson River school which consisted of landscape painters from different generations between 1825 and 1870. The early leaders of the school including Thomas Cole, Thomas Doughty, and Asher Durand were famous for representing the landscape of Hudson River Valley. Moran became an important second-generation painter of the school as well as the best illustrator. He produced more than a thousand published commercial images and engravings that were his primary source of finances to facilitate his trips to the wilderness.

Moran later moved to the westwards and become a member of Rocky mountain school together with Thomas Hill, Albert Bierstadt, and William Keith. They applied European romantic arts philosophy and the luminous color palette of Hudson school as well as the landscapes of the American West. In 1870, Scribner's magazine approached Moran and asked him to redo the Yellowstone national park sketches.

He kept a diary of details of the Yellow stone’s trip which marked his career’s turning point. He became attached to the west and was even named Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. After two years, Moran together with John Wesley Powell's government survey made a trip to Grand Canyon and explored the range of the Rocky Mountains at the Mountains of the Holy cross. The oil paintings they made during this trip are currently used as an example of American landscape paintings.

In 1882, Moran built a home for his family in Hamptons without involving an architect. Moran and his wife filled the walls of their house with paintings collected from their trips. The home is now a reflection of the couple's skills and talents. It was nearly damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 but was later restored. The work of his hands made him rich that he traveled extensively until his late period.

Later Life

Thomas Moran traveled across the world during the later decades of his career life following his mentor’s footsteps. In 1899, Mary his wife passed on at the age of 47 which devastated Moran. She contracted Typhoid fever after nursing their daughter Ruth through the same disease.

He left his home together with Ruth and settled in Santa Barbara in the early 1920s. He continued leading his life as a traveler across his career and made more than 1500 oil paintings and 800 watercolors. He later died in 1926 at 89 years of age and left behind a legacy as the deal of American landscape painter and last America’s romantic painter.

According to his daughter Ruth, her father was kind, generous, quick-witted, humorous, a fighter but a little quick-tempered. His Legacy is very alive at his home in Hampton and Mount Moran in Grand Teton national park which was named after his respect.