It’s always surprising to me how there is a common thread between the things that catch my attention. I’d been looking at the work of Turner in recent weeks and in the course of that exploration read of his influence on the Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran. I was recently fortunate enough to be in a position to have access to to a couple of great books, ‘Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains’ by Thurman Wilkins and the National Gallery of Art book ‘Thomas Moran’ and was able to spend some more time reading about the influence of Turner on Moran’s work. The Wilkins book is quite dense and was something of a labor to get through, even though I only had time to read the sections on the intersection of Moran and Turner’s work. Moran spent time in London studying the work of Turner, learning the fundamentals of Turner’s technique such that he was able to make high-quality copies of the masterworks. This exploration of the use of light and color that began with emulating the work of Turner remained with Moran even as he developed his own distinct style.
Moran is perhaps most famous for his paintings of the american west and particularly of Yellowstone which were instrumental in making the case for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t these images that caught my eye but rather the ones that represented Shoshone Falls. The Shoshone falls when Moran painted them were considered to be unexplored by painters, although long recognized to be second only to Niagara Falls in magnificence. The section on the falls in the National Gallery book is particularly interesting. I was surprised to read that the painting of the falls at the top of the page was the last of his large panoramic landscapes and remained unsold at his death. My interest in the Shosone falls was piqued because it was the subject of another one of my favorite photographers Thomas Joshua Cooper. I’ve mentioned Cooper on the blog previously in a couple of posts first here and then here. His interpretation of the Shoshone falls can be seen in his book Shoshone Falls. A book that I’m going to revisit soon.
Check out the discuss of Thomas Moran’s work in the video below:
The image above was the first painting that I can really remember having paid any attention to. It was a figure in an encyclopedia of steam engines that I had when I was much younger and I didn’t get it at all. It took me a long time to realize that what I was looking at was a steam engine, a Great Western train crossing a viaduct, even though there was accompanying text that described the image. I didn’t get it at all. It didn’t look like a steam engine, a train or anything that I’d ever seen for that matter. That of course was the point. It wasn’t supposed to look like something it was an attempt to capture a mood, a sensation, a feeling. Looking at ‘Steam, Speed, Rain’ now I would say that Turner nailed it perfectly. At the time Turner made this painting in 1844 he would have been around 69, his position in the art community firmly established he was well positioned to push the boundaries of what was accepted as the norm. I suspect that many of the people at the time didn’t appreciate what he was trying to achieve and ridiculed him for his efforts. Even so, he pursued the development of this style of removing precise forms from his work leaving color and light to give a sense of the mood he was trying to evoke for the last two decades of his career.
Turner was one of the first artists to ensure that his work would be preserved following his death and so there is a rich archive of material from sketchbooks to watercolors and oils to study. I doubt how he got from the work that got him elected to the Royal Academy at the ripe old age of 26 to that of his later years will be clear from a study of the 40,000 or so works that he left behind.
Also there is a film ‘Mr Turner‘ due to be released later in the year that stars Timothy Spall who won the best actor award at the 2014 Cannes film festival for his depiction of Turner. Check out the trailer below: