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Thomas Moran's Masterpiece "Green River Cliffs, Wyoming" Acquired by National Gallery of Art
Thomas Moran, Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Milligan and Thomson Families.
WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art, Washington, recently acquired American painter Thomas Moran's Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881, a gift of the Milligan and Thomson Families. It was ten years after his first trip west in 1871 that Moran completed the most stunning of all his Green River paintings. The dramatic landscape is presented in a special installation on the main floor of the West Building from March 4 through June 26, 2011.

"The National Gallery of Art has one of the finest collections of American landscape paintings in the nation, but we have always lacked a grand panoramic view of the American West. Green River Cliffs, Wyoming fills this gap in spectacular fashion," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are exceedingly grateful for this generous gift from the Milligan and Thomson Families."

The Gallery has two other paintings by Moran (1837–1926)—The Juniata, Evening, 1864, and The Much Resounding Sea, 1884, acquired respectively in 2010 and 1967—in addition to one drawing and eight prints. The Juniata, Evening is on view in the West Building, American galleries. In 1997–1998, the Gallery presented the first major Moran retrospective. The exhibition, which celebrated the 125th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park, was also seen at the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, and the Seattle Art Museum. Among the more than 100 works featured in the show were Moran's earliest watercolors of Yellowstone and Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, one of his most celebrated paintings.

In June 1871, Thomas Moran, a gifted young artist working in Philadelphia, boarded a train that would take him to the far reaches of the western frontier and change the course of his career. Just a few months earlier he had been asked to illustrate a magazine article describing a wondrous region in Wyoming called Yellowstone—rumored to contain steam-spewing geysers, boiling hot springs, and bubbling mud pots. Eager to be the first artist to record these astonishing natural wonders, Moran quickly made plans to travel west.

Yellowstone was Moran's ultimate destination in the summer of 1871, but before he reached the land of geysers and hot springs, he stepped off the train in Green River, Wyoming, and discovered a landscape unlike any he had ever seen. Rising above the dusty railroad town were towering cliffs, reduced by nature to their geologic essence. Captivated by the bands of color that centuries of wind and water had revealed, Moran completed a small field study he later inscribed "First Sketch Made in the West." Moran went on to join F. V. Hayden's survey expedition to Yellowstone and complete the watercolors that would later play a key role in the Congressional decision to set the region aside as America's first national park. Over the years, however, the subject Moran returned to repeatedly was the western landscape he saw first—the magnificent cliffs of Green River.

Green River, Wyoming, was a bustling railroad town when Moran arrived in 1871. Three years earlier, Union Pacific construction crews had arrived intent on bridging the river. Their tent camp quickly became a boomtown boasting a schoolhouse, hotel, and brewery. Yet none of these structures appear in Moran's Green River paintings. Even the railroad is missing. Instead, the dazzling colors of the sculpted cliffs and an equally colorful band of Indians are the focus. In a bravura display of artistic license, Moran erased the reality of advancing civilization, conjuring instead an imagined scene of a pre-industrial West that neither he nor anyone else could have seen in 1871.





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