Thomas Moran – A Study of Willows

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Line etching, with selective wiping, warm brown ink on thin laid paper with a narrow margin. This print is displayed in a new mount (no frame). Signed in pencil (lower left) “T. Moran”. Printed in the plate with the artist’s monogram, (lower right). Literature:
Exhibition catalogue: C. Klackner’s, New York, March 1889. A Catalogue of the Complete Etched Works of Thomas Moran and M Nimmo Moran. “A Study Of Willows” 1879. Etched from a sketch from nature. Printed with a tone for cloud effects. Page 10. No. 12. (This print was the frontispiece for the Klackner catalogue).
Exhibition catalogue: The Prints of Thomas Moran in – The Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. Oct 1986 – Jan 1987. Page 85. No. 21, illustrated.


This print is in very good condition and is unique in the respect that it was gifted by the artist to the noted Scottish travel writer and painter, Constance Frederica Gordon-Cumming (1837-1924). Gordon-Cumming was born into a wealthy family, she travelled around the world painting and writing on scenes and life as she saw them. She was a friend and influencer of the travel writers and artists Marianne Isabella North and Isabella Bird.

Gordon-Cumming visited Yosemite Valley in April 1878, after visiting Tahiti. She intended to visit for 3 days but ended up staying 3 months. She says “I for one have wandered far enough over the wide world to know a unique glory when I am blessed by the sight of one . . .” She published her letters back home as Granite Crags in 1884. While in Yosemite Miss Gordon-Cumming also drew watercolour sketches, which she displayed in Yosemite Valley—making it the first art exhibition in Yosemite.

In May 1882 the Moran’s sailed for the British Isles – they visited Scotland and London (where they met Francis Seymour Haden of the London Society of Painter-Etchers and John Ruskin). A year previous to this visit Mary and Thomas were invited to become fellows of the London Society of Painter-Etchers, and Moran was elected an Associate of the National Academy. Ruskin bought etchings from both the Moran’s.

Despite his inventiveness, Moran also had a strong naturalistic proclivity. He encountered photographers on many of his expeditions and commissions, and his brother John’s occupation as a photographer in Philadelphia may have led to Thomas’ incorporation of photographs into his works. The Pah-Ute Girl and The Empty Cradle were both drawn from photos taken by the German-born American, John Hillers (1843-1925) on the 1873 Powell expedition to what is now Utah and southern Arizona. Apparently, Moran arranged the poses to correspond better to nineteenth-century artistic conventions. Moreover, the costumes may have been anachronistic, for Hillers states in his diary that, on the 1873 expedition, Powell took along clothing acquired on an earlier trip in the late 1860s. Similarly, Moran produced an etching titled, The Church of San Juan, this etching was also derived from a photograph but several sketches and watercolours intervened between the photograph and the final print. The mere copying of photographs was never Moran’s aim.

Thomas Moran made more than eighty etchings during his career. Many of these etchings were of original subjects; some were etched reproductions of his own work and the work of other artists. Moran’s etchings exhibit the full extent of his creativity and inventiveness. He owned his own press and employed a wide variety of tools and techniques, various proofs reveal re-workings and a careful building of depth and tone with successive states. Moran’s etchings of original subjects were based on sketches made in the field: unlike his wife, Moran never etched directly from nature. Each won wide acclaim for their etchings, and in 1881 they were among the twelve Americans elected as “original fellows” of the Painter-Etcher’s Society of London. John Ruskin admired their work, calling Moran’s “The Resounding Sea” the “finest drawing of water in motion that had come out of America. Throughout the 1880’s Moran was widely exhibited, winning honours, awards and high critical praise. The etchings also enjoyed commercial success, with various editions selling out shortly after their publication.

Additional information

A Study of Willows

Sheet: 3 3/16 in x 6 15/16 in. (8.1 cm x 17.6 cm.) Platemark: 2 15/16 in x 6 11/16 in. (7.5 cm x 17 cm.) Mount: 8 7/16 x 12 3/16 in. (21.4 cm x 30.9 cm.)


Moran, Thomas (1837-1926)

Thomas Moran was an American painter and printmaker of the Hudson River School in New York whose work often featured the Rocky Mountains. Moran and his family, wife Mary Nimmo Moran and daughter Ruth, took residence in New York where he obtained work as an artist. He was a younger brother of the noted marine artist Edward Moran, with whom he shared a studio. A talented illustrator and exquisite colourist, Thomas Moran was hired as an illustrator at Scribner's Monthly. During the late 1860s, he was appointed the chief illustrator for the magazine, a position that helped him launch his career as one of the premier painters of the American landscape, in particular, the American West. Moran along with Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, and William Keith are sometimes referred to as belonging to the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters because of all of the Western landscapes made by this group. Thomas Moran began his artistic career as a teenage apprentice to the Philadelphia wood-engraving firm Scattergood & Telfer. Moran found the engraving process "tedious" and spent his free time working on his own watercolours. By the mid-1850s he was drawing the firm's illustrations for publication rather than carving them. It was then that he encountered illustrated books that included examples of the work of British artist J. M. W. Turner, who was to be a lasting influence on Moran's work. He also began studying with local painter James Hamilton. Moran travelled to England in 1862 to see Turner's work. From that point on, he emulated Turner's use of colour, his choice of landscapes, and was inspired by his explorations in watercolour, a medium for which Turner was particularly well-known. During the 1870s and 1880s, Moran's designs for wood-engraved illustrations appeared in major magazines and gift oriented publications. Although he mastered multiple printing media including wood-engraving, etching, and lithography, which he learned from his brothers, he received renown for his paintings in oil and in watercolour. The height of his career coincided with the popularity of chromolithography, which Moran used to make colour prints of his works, so that they could be widely distributed. He was also one of the leaders of the etching revival in the United States and Great Britain. Moran was married to Scottish born Mary Nimmo Moran (1842–1899), an etcher and landscape painter. The couple had two daughters and a son. His brothers Edward (1829–1901), John (1831–1902) and Peter (1841–1914), as well as his nephews Edward Percy Moran (1862–1935) and Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) were also active as artists. He died in Santa Barbara, California on August 25, 1926. Thomas Moran's vision of the Western landscape was critical to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. In 1871 Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, director of the United States Geological Survey, invited Moran, at the request of American financier Jay Cooke, to join Hayden and his expedition team into the unknown Yellowstone region. Hayden was just about to embark on his arduous journey when he received a letter from Cooke presenting Moran as "an artist of Philadelphia of rare genius". Funded by Cooke (the director of the Northern Pacific Railroad), and Scribner's Monthly, a new illustrated magazine, Moran agreed to join the survey team of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 in their exploration of the Yellowstone region. During forty days in the wilderness area, Moran visually documented over 30 different sites and produced a diary of the expedition's progress and daily activities. His sketches, along with photographs produced by survey member William Henry Jackson, captured the nation's attention and helped inspire Congress to establish the Yellowstone region as the first national park in 1872. Moran's paintings along with Jackson's photographs revealed the scale and splendour of the beautiful Yellowstone region where written or oral descriptions failed, persuading President Grant and the US Congress that Yellowstone was to be preserved. Moran's impact on Yellowstone was great, but Yellowstone had a significant influence on the artist, too. His first national recognition as an artist, as well as his first large financial success, resulted from his connection with Yellowstone. He even adopted a new signature: T-Y-M, Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran. Just one year after his introduction to the area, Moran captured the imagination of the American public with his first 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. Several of these, including two versions of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1893–1901 and 1872) and Chasm of the Colorado (1873–74) are now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Over the next forty years Moran travelled extensively. He went back to Yellowstone with Jackson in 1892. They were invited by Elwood Mead, the state engineer of Wyoming, in preparation for a "Wyoming Exhibition" at the World's Columbian Exposition. Thousands of tourists were now able to visit the park, arriving by the Northern Pacific Railway, and Moran and Jackson were able to take advantage of the tourist facilities, such as a hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs. Moran wrote "After a day at Norris we left for the Grand Canyon where we stayed two days and made a great many photos. 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 colour 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, including views from the viewpoint named for him on the 1871 trip, "Moran Point." Moran was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Design in 1884 and produced numerous works of art in his senior years.