The Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art
in Washington, DC, voted last week to acquire The Juniata, Evening, an exceptional painting done in 1864 by American artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Purchased from a private collection with funds from Max and Heidi Berry and Ann and Mark Kington/The Kington Foundation, the Pennsylvania landscape has never been exhibited publicly. It is the second painting by Moran to enter the Gallery's collection; the first is The Much Resounding Sea (1884).
"Since 1997, when the Gallery hosted a Moran retrospective, we have actively searched for superior examples of Moran's work," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "The Juniata, Evening, unknown to us at the time of the retrospective, is the most important and the most beautiful of Moran's early landscapes to surface in decades."
The Juniata, Evening is a rare example of the eastern landscapes that Moran produced before he traveled to the American West in 1871. Commissioned by a Philadelphia banker and railroad executive, the painting has remained in private hands since it was completed in 1864.
Born in Bolton, England and raised in Philadelphia, Thomas Moran returned to his homeland in 1862 to study works by the artist he revered above all othersJ.M.W. Turner. For several months, he retraced Turner's path through England and France, sketching the landscapes that had inspired the English master. Steeped in the writings of John Ruskin, Turner's early champion, Moran returned to Philadelphia and began producing a series of stunningly beautiful landscapes of the Pennsylvania countryside. Taking to heart Turner's example and Ruskin's advice to "study nature carefully and reproduce her wonders accurately," Moran spent weeks sketching in the forests surrounding Philadelphia.
In the summer of 1864 Moran ventured farther, traveling by rail to the Juniata River valley in central Pennsylvania. The Juniata River, a major tributary of the Susquehanna, wound through lush meadows and steep sandstone cliffs. Moran's painting of the valley is filled with closely observed detail: grazing sheep, farm dwellings, distant smoke, a lone traveler, and, most remarkably, a foreground vignette of an artist, possibly a self-portrait, with a painting on his easel duplicating the scene before the viewer.