DescriptionTHOMAS MORAN (American, 1837-1926)
Venice, Grand Canal, 1903
Oil on canvas
14-1/4 x 20-1/4 inches (36.2 x 51.4 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: T Moran / 1903
Private collection, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This painting will be included in Stephen L. Good and Phyllis Braff's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's works.
Regarded as one of the foremost American artists of the nineteenth century, Thomas Moran is best known for his magnificent views of the American West, in particular his detailed depictions of Yellowstone that played a major role in convincing Congress to make the region a national park in 1872. Though the artist spent a great deal of time painting the American frontier, it is his dreamy, jewel-toned depictions of Venice that perhaps best epitomize his intent to imaginatively capture the romantic, picturesque beauty and the unique sensory experience of a locale, rather than depicting reality in topographically accurate detail. As stated by the artist, "All my tendencies are toward idealization. A place as a place has no value in itself for the artist." (Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, p. 333). Indeed, as seen in the present work, Thomas Moran's ability to convey the scenic splendor of the Venice canal in a unique, poetic manner was what would lead to the widespread popularity of his views of the Italian city.
Born in Bolton, England in 1837 as one of seven children, Thomas Moran emigrated to the United States with his family in 1844, settling in Philadelphia. At the age of sixteen, he was apprenticed to a local engraving firm, and spent his spare time painting and drawing. In 1856 the young artist began exhibiting his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although Moran was self-taught, he received guidance from the painter James Hamilton, who introduced him to the work of the popular English landscape and marine painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner. After studying illustrations of Turner's dynamic paintings, Moran was determined to see the artist's work in person. In 1862 he sailed for Britain and spent several weeks at the National Gallery in London studying Turner's works firsthand. Moran began to emulate the artist's atmospheric, light-filled compositions, deriving inspiration from his striking color effects and masterful handling of light, air and mist, as seen in the present work.
Thomas Moran first visited Venice in May of 1886. While there, he produced a number of sketches which he would later develop into oil paintings in his studio. The following spring he exhibited two views of Venice at the National Academy, and thereafter he submitted a Venetian painting to the exhibition nearly every year he participated. The canal was a favorite theme of Moran's, and the subject of Venice quickly became his "best seller." Moran would visit Venice again in 1890, this time returning to New York with a large gondola that he kept on a pond near his summer residence in East Hampton, and which served as a model for many of his Venetian paintings to come.
Works of art and travel literature with Venice as their subject were in abundance and at the height of vogue during the latter part of the nineteenth century, perhaps owing to the exotic, otherworldly concept of a city floating on water. Moran's depictions of the colorful gondolas and fishing boats of Venice fed an American nostalgia for a pre-industrialized past, and served as a counterpoint to a rapidly changing society, which was pressing full speed ahead into a new age.
As exemplified in the present work, Moran, like Turner, took advantage of the mirror-like effects of architecture and fishing vessels reflected on the surface of the water, creating an interplay of bright colors and dazzling effects. In Venice, Grand Canal, a vivid, jewel-toned palette and sweeping brushstrokes enhance the ethereal quality of the scene, transporting the viewer to the idyllic world of Moran's travel recollections.
Original canvas with no evidence of restoration under UV examination (nothing fluoresces under black light); stretcher creases visible on all four sides; overall craquelure commensurate with age; very faint speckled accretions in water along lower edge and in white clouds above campanile; on the verso, there are three minor vertical pulls in the canvas weave, two of which are slightly visible on the front of the canvas, beneath the pigment (appearing as a 3.5" vertical passage in the water to the left of the central gondola and as a 1.25" vertical passage in the upper right sky); otherwise in good condition. Framed to an overall size of 22 x 28 inches.
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