DAM Exhibition Explores Thomas Moran’s Chromolithographs

Landscape artist’s innovative portfolio celebrated the beauty of America’s West

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) will host the exhibition Thomas Moran’s Yellowstone: A Project for the Nation, October 6, 2013–January 20, 2014. The exhibition will feature 15 of Moran’s chromolithographs, multi-color prints, of Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountain region made for wide distribution to the public in an 1876 portfolio. Best known for his monumental landscapes, Moran created work that stirred the public’s fascination with the American West during the 19th century. Moran’s chromolithographs brought some of the first images of the West to a large American audience. A selection of watercolors, drawings and oil paintings will complement the multi-color prints and illuminate the artist’s creative process.

“The exhibit explores the exceptional quality of Moran’s chromolithographs and their enduring appeal,” said Thomas Smith, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the DAM. “For much of the American public, the portfolio was their first encounter with scenes of the newly established Yellowstone National Park.”

Thomas Moran was born in 1837 in England, but moved to Philadelphia with his family in 1844. As a teenager, he worked as an apprentice for a wood engraving firm and began to paint and draw seriously. Moran first received national attention for his sketches and paintings of the landscapes he encountered as a member of geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden’s 1871 survey of the area that would later become Yellowstone National Park. His Yellowstone experiences became a significant influence throughout his artistic career.

By 1873, Moran had earned widespread recognition as a painter when a publisher of chromolithograph prints, Louis Prang, approached him about producing a portfolio of his work. Published in 1876, the portfolio titled The Yellowstone National Park, and the Mountain Regions of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah, coincided with the nation’s centennial and capitalized on the public’s fascination with the unknown West. A “just subject for national pride,” Hayden stated in the book’s introduction. The portfolio was the first illustrated publication about the West to be printed in color, and the first time Moran’s images were made widely available.

This natural cross emblazoned on a soaring Colorado peak attracted a flood of pilgrims to the state during the late 1800s and early 1900s. “It is as if God has set His sign, His seal, His promise there—a beacon upon the very center and height of the Continent,” wrote journalist Samuel Bowles in 1869. In the century that’s passed since Moran painted it, the cross-shaped crevice has eroded and become less defined, but it’s still visible today. Thomas Moran (American, 1837–1926), Mount of the Holy Cross, 1894. Watercolor on paper. Anonymous gift, 1981.16
The DAM exhibition celebrates Moran’s and Prang’s collaborative project and explores Moran’s sources and creative process leading up to the portfolio’s publication by displaying each chromolithograph alongside the artist’s own watercolors and drawings. The relationship between painting and photography during the 19th century is also revealed in comparisons of Moran’s works and William Henry Jackson’s photographs. Moran worked alongside Jackson while in Yellowstone and often referenced his colleague’s works when he returned to his painting studio.

Co-curators for the exhibition are Toby Jurovics, chief curator of the Joslyn Art Museum, and Thomas Smith, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the DAM.

Exhibition Catalog

The exhibition will be accompanied by a reprint publication of Joni L. Kinsey’s Thomas Moran’s West: Chromolithography, High Art, and Popular Taste. Kinsey details the commission and contents of the artist’s portfolio, the debate surrounding chromolithography in the 19th century, the technical accomplishments of Prang and Moran, and the rise of Yellowstone National Park as a cultural icon.

Exhibition Tour Schedule

Gilcrease Museum, June 8–September 3, 2013

Denver Art Museum, October 6, 2013–January 20, 2014

Joslyn Art Museum, June 7–September 7, 2014

Exhibition Organizers and Sponsors

Thomas Moran's Yellowstone: A Project for the Nation is organized by the Denver Art Museum, Petrie Institute of Western American Art and the Joslyn Art Museum, Durham Center for Western Studies. It is supported by anonymous donors to the Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Carolyn and Bob Barnett, the generous donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign and the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine, CBS4 and The Denver Post.

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