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Titled, dated, and signed

A Water Pocket, Northern Arizona will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work by Stephen Good and Phyllis Braff.

According to Phyllis Braff, co-editor of the Thomas Moran Catalogue Raisonné Project, “Thomas Moran’s enthusiasm for the Northern Arizona terrain began in the early 1870s and was especially strong in 1907 when, according to his journal list of works painted in his studio that summer, he completed A Water Pocket, Northern Arizona, and three other paintings related to the region. He had traveled to the area just weeks earlier. One surviving field sketch, dated May 25, 1907, includes what seems to be a water pocket that corresponds to the painting. The artist had first explored the region in 1873 when, anxious to view the Grand Canyon, he had eagerly welcomed the opportunity to accompany Major John Wesley Powell’s Colorado River survey expedition for that portion of the arduous endeavor. Those strong primary impressions of Northern Arizona would soon help Moran solidify his fame and his link to the locale: in the year that followed, Congress purchased his large canvas, ‘Chasm of the Colorado’ (1873-1874) for installation in the Capitol. During that era, Moran’s primary goal had been the visual material that would celebrate the geological wonders of America’s Western Territories. By the time of his next Arizona visit, in 1892, celebration of the nation’s great economic expansion was also in the air. Indeed, that trip, and others to follow, involved a special arrangement with the Santa Fe Railroad, which was promoting a newly completed route through the Colorado River region of Northern Arizona.

“Moran’s interest in Arizona’s water pockets began during his earliest visit. In a letter to his wife, dated August 13, 1873, he refers to sightings of these natural formations: ‘The next day we reached what is called the Wild Band Pocket... It is a gulch with a rock bottom that holds water after it rains... All places that hold water after rain are called water pockets.’ Further into his narrative he mentions another of these specifically named formations, the ‘Witches Pocket,’ and goes on to explain the character and taste of the water that accumulates at different sites. By 1907, when he painted A Water Pocket, Northern Arizona, Moran had become interested in adding early cultural practices as a way of further enhancing history. The painting gives central emphasis to the cliff dwellings characteristic of the Hopi Indians and shows women engaged in customary water-gathering routines. In another letter to his wife, which is dated May 22, 1892, the artist documents more of his direct experience: ‘We visited today the cliff dwellers house…’

“Travel to the area immediately prior to undertaking A Water Pocket, Northern Arizona was an opportunity to reinforce impressions of the rich tonalities characteristic of the adobes, mesas and the Territory’s powerful geology. Moran defined the golden-orange adobe structures with purple-toned shadows for resonance, and he distributed light-filled pigments to design an effective composition and to create the illusion of almost infinite depth. This typical Moran approach brought the stylistic methods of the great old masters to his favored views of America’s scenic wonders.”

Mr. & Mrs. R. W. Norton, Jr., Shreveport, Louisiana
Property from a Private Collection

The Hudson River School, The R. W. Norton Art Gallery, Shreveport, Louisiana, October 14 - November 25, 1973

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