The name Thomas Moran comes to mind when one thinks of the “Great American Landscape.” We think of Moran the painter, not the illustrator. Yet during his lifetime he produced some two thousand illustrations for such publications as Scribner’s Monthly, Harper’s Weekly, and The Century. It is true that Moran will forever be remembered as one of the finest landscape painters in America, but his contribution to the art of illustration measures with the best.
Scribner’s Monthly published 14 Moran ink-and-wash drawings for a Nathaniel P. Langford article, “Wonders of the Yellowstone,” in May of 1871. This singular article, with beautifully engraved adaptations of Moran’s drawings, changed the course of the young artist’s life and the course of American history. Moran, the Easterner, discovered his destiny in the American West, and the United States Government created Yellowstone as our first national park in March of 1872. Moran, the illustrator, has proven that a printed image on a page provided the ultimate form of communication for America to know its own frontier.
Born February 12th, 1837, in Lancashire, England, young Thomas emigrated to America at the age of seven with his mother Mary, five brothers, and two sisters to join Thomas Moran, Sr. in Philadelphia.
At 16, he apprenticed with a wood engraving firm. This no doubt gave Moran early training in composition and creating pictures with good value structure. He always had his sketchbook in hand, recording the beauty of his surroundings wherever he traveled. His first drawings, which appeared in Harper’s Monthly in June of 1862, attracted considerable attention. Throughout his life, Moran, the great American landscape painter, continued to contribute to the field of illustration. He never denied the roots of his craft, noting that his fine art was never diminished by creating illustrations for the printed page.
Thomas Moran’s legacy is in showing us the spirit found in the natural beauty of the American West. Whether his art was created for a magazine or a gallery wall, he gave his adopted country a gift for the ages, never to be equaled.
Hall of Fame Committee