When thinking of Yellowstone National Park many immediately imagine its breathtaking scenery and most are grateful for its preservation. Most people are unaware of the debt of gratitude that is due to painter Thomas Moran for the safeguarding of such treasured lands. A painter of the Hudson River school, Moran successfully captured the power and beauty of the terrain and his artwork was used by proponents of the park system when they went before the American Congress in 1916, appealing for the creation of a large collection of protected areas.
Moran was not an American himself however; he had been born in England in 1837 to a family of weavers. They immigrated to the United States when Moran was only seven years old. He received no formal art training, with the exception of his apprenticeship to a wood engraver during his teenage years. The experience was incredibly valuable to him however, as it provided his foundation in understanding value and texture in a scene or image.
For most of his life Moran would work from his studio in Philadelphia or a bit later in Newark. Most of the paintings were drafted from sketches made on his field journeys. His first professional art work was illustrating for magazines, including such popular publications as Harper's and Scribner's. His early work received such attention that he was invited to join a geological survey expedition into the Yellowstone territory in 1871, to document the scenery and terrain.
His work from the journey brought him further offers to serve as an expedition artist and he continued to head west, to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Yosemite areas. This work would fill the next forty years of his life.
Though he would be best known for his dramatic and eloquent landscapes, Moran was also interested in the Native Americans, and painted the New Mexico Indians. He would also experience the American south and travel to Florida to document the landscape there as well.
Moran decided to escape the cold eastern winters and relocated to Santa Barbara, California in 1922. His work never lost its popularity and he became internationally famous for his paintings of the American West, and its future park lands.
His paintings are in the collections of such museums as the Orange County Museum as well as in the White House in Washington, D.C.