DescriptionThomas Moran (American, 1837-1926)
Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon (Lair of the Mountain Lion), 1914
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: TMoran. / 1914
Osborne Co., Clifton, New Jersey, 1915;
William Thomas Gilcrease, Tulsa, Oklahoma;
Des Cygne Gilcrease Denney, San Antonio, Texas, gift from the above;
Corwin D. Denney, Palm Springs, California, by descent from the above, 1968;
By descent to the present owner.
Palm Springs Art Museum (known as the Palm Springs Desert Museum until 2005), Palm Springs, California, "The West as Art: Changing Perceptions of Western Art in California Collections," February 23-May 30, 1982 (as Mountain Lion of Yellowstone).
J. Wilson, "The Significance of Thomas Moran as an American Landscape Painter," Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1955, pp. 115, 290-91;
T. Wilkins, Thomas Moran, Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1966, p. 237;
N. Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, New Haven, Connecticut, 1997, p. 274.
Thomas Moran continues to hold the title of visual architect of the dramatic Western landscape, which captured the imagination of America at the turn of the century and helped inspire the creation of the National Park System. During the 1910s, Moran revisited his favorite subjects from prior decades, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and especially the Grand Canyon. A masterwork from 1914, Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon epitomizes Moran's technique of romanticizing landscape elements in order to evoke the sublimity of nature.
Here, dual sentinels--a purplish peak on the left and intertwined pines on the right--tower above a mountain lion's lair. The mountain lion, a rare instance of wildlife in a Moran painting, embodies the delicate mix of beauty, danger, and possibility, which defined the period's vision of the unique character of the American West. Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon is the visual analogue of guidebook texts, published by the transcontinental railroad to promote tourist travel to the newly opened parks: "Not the most fervid pictures of a poet's fancy could transcend the glories then revealed in the depths of the Canon; inky shadows, pale gildings of lofty spires, golden splendors of sun beating full on facades of red and yellow, obscurations of distant peaks by veils of transient shower, glimpses of white towers half drowned in purple haze, suffusions of rosy light blended in reflection from a hundred tinted walls. Caught up to emotional heights the beholder becomes unmindful of fatigue. He mounts on wings. He drives the chariot of the sun." (C.A. Higgins, "A Grand Canon of the Colorado River," Passenger Department Santa Fe Route, Chicago, 1897, p. 18).
Moran first encountered the majesty of the Grand Canyon in 1873 while accompanying Major John Wesley Powell on his expedition through the Rocky Mountain region. Under the auspices of the Santa Fe Railroad, the artist returned to the site in 1892 and wintered there annually until 1920, with his daughter, Ruth, becoming a fixture at the famous El Tovar Hotel. Art historian Nancy Anderson explains Moran's attachment to the Grand Canyon: "In exchange for rail passes and hotel accommodations, Moran produced paintings of the canyon that were used as promotional tools in hotels, offices, and railroad cars. Additional images were distributed on calendars, in guidebooks and brochures, even on stationery. Eventually Moran became so closely identified with the canyon that the railroad used his picture in advertisements" (N. Anderson, Thomas Moran, New Haven, 1997, p. 164).
Generous with his success, Moran enjoined fellow artists to paint the Grand Canyon as an award-winning subject and as a tool for marketing the rare splendor of the American landscape: "My chief desire is to call the attention of . . . painters to the unlimited field for the exercise of their talents to be found in this enchanting Southwestern country; a country flooded with color and picturesqueness, offering everything to inspire the artist, and stimulate him to the production of works of lasting interest and value. This Grand Canyon of Arizona, and all the country surrounding it, offers a new and comparatively untrodden field for pictorial interpretation, and only awaits the men of original thoughts and ideas to prove to their countrymen that we possess and land of beauty and grandeur with which no other can compare" (T. Moran, quoted in N. Spalding Stevens, "A Pilgrimage to the Artist's Paradise," The Fine Arts Journal, February 1911, p. 112).
Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon, reproduced as a large-scale color print by Osborne & Co. in 1915, also points to the role of the commercial arts in Moran's career. Indeed, "too often overshadowed by his painting in art historical literature, commercial work was a primary means of economic support for Moran through most of his life. In the artist's own opinion and in that of many of his contemporaries, it comprised an important vehicle for his talent and vision. Commissions for illustrations provided him occasions for travel and artistic inspiration, and in many cases the resulting wood engravings formed the basis for more monumental work. . . . His commercial art brought him into contact with some of the most influential individuals and corporations of his time, which in turn contributed to his success as a fine artist in the grand tradition" (Anderson, p. 321). By the 1890s, publishers were using chromolithography, letterpress, and offset lithography to popularize Moran's work through travel guides, calendars, ink blotters, and other collectibles. Entrepreneurial, the artist began selling copyrights of original artwork for $500.
A publishing consortium that Moran partnered with frequently at the turn of the century was Osborne and Murphy, founded in 1888 in Red Oak, Iowa. Newspaper editors Edmund B. Osborne and Thomas D. Murphy brilliantly conceived of art calendars, coupled with advertisements for local businesses, as a tool to increase subscriptions. In 1895 the partners split into separate entities, and Osborne & Co. moved to Allwood, New Jersey. Both companies commissioned paintings and bought copyrights from Moran for their promotional calendars and color prints. Moran's ledgers indicate that Osborne & Co. purchased the original painting Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon (The Lair of the Mountain Lion) in January 1915 for $1,100, as well as the copyright, enabling the reproduction of the painting as a color print.
The provenance of Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon, tracing back to the incomparable Western art collector Thomas Gilcrease, further underscores its importance within Moran's oeuvre. Although Gilcrease donated the majority of his collection to his eponymous museum in Tulsa, he kept this painting for himself, ultimately gifting it to his daughter, Des Cygne. The painting has remained in the family of Des Cygne's husband, the late Corwin D. Denney, a Gilcrease Museum board member and philanthropist in his own right. With its distinguished history and subject, Mountain Lion in Grand Canyon stands as one of Moran's greatest late works.
This painting will be included in Stephen L. Good and Phyllis Braff's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's works.
We would like to thank Julius Lowy Frame and Restoring Company of New York for the following condition report: The artwork is an oil painting which is executed on a medium wove linen canvas and stretched onto a four-member wooden stretcher. The painting has been edge lined, and the support is in good and stable condition as are the oil based ground and media layers. Ultraviolet examination reveals a fluorescence of small and careful in painting within the center tree top, and in the lower left quadrant within the rock covering pin-point abrasions. Additionally, there is a fine line of in-painting at the center just above the bottom edge covering a small hairline scratch. A partial natural resin varnish is also present above the media layers under ultraviolet examination. Upon visual inspection, the artwork is clean and in excellent condition overall. The painting is signed and dated at the lower right in black. Framed Dimensions 41 X 36 Inches
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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