English-born landscape painter Thomas Moran achieved such commercial success and widespread recognition for his paintings and chromolithographs* of the West that he became known as the Dean of American Painters. As a child, he immigrated with his family to the United States. In Philadelphia, Moran was apprenticed to a wood engraver, where he learned the manipulation of texture and value, skills evident in his mature painting style. Moran returned to England, coming under the spell of J. M. W. Turner, and later went to Europe to study the works of the Old Masters.
Moran worked for a time as a magazine illustrator. He was invited to accompany Ferdinand V. Hayden’s famous 1871 Geological Survey Expedition to Yellowstone. Moran’s paintings of Yellowstone’s geysers, hot springs, canyons, and cliffs played a major role in convincing Congress to make the region a national park in 1872. After the Yellowstone trip, Moran’s career as an expedition artist and painter blossomed. He continued to travel with subsequent Hayden surveys and painted Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and other wilderness regions for the next forty years.
Today, Moran’s paintings are held in prestigious collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
* Chromolithography took root in the United States a little before 1820. To make a lithograph, an image was drawn on a chemically treated, smooth stone, often limestone, using a lithographic crayon. In the case of Moran’s chromolithographs, as many as fifty-six stones were used to fill in the image, one stone used for each color. The interaction between the chemicals and crayons resulted in a permanent image on the stone. Finally, each stone was brushed with water and then inked with an oil-based ink that was attracted to the crayon and repelled by the water. The printer then lined up each stone on the paper and ran them through a printing press until the image was complete.