2017 Coeur d’Alene Art Auction / Lot 184180 / 306  •  View Catalog  •   • 

Thomas Moran (1837 – 1926)
The Rio Virgin, Southern Utah (1917)
oil on canvas
20 × 16 inches
signed and dated lower right [fingerprint]

Label, J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York, NY
Unknown exhibition label with title and “#13”

According to Donna Poulton, Moran biographer, "Renowned explorer, John Wesley Powell invited Thomas Moran and Jack Hillers to spend the summer of 1873 with him in southern Utah as Powell continued his survey of the tributaries of the Colorado River. Lessons learned from Ferdinand Hayden’s success with Moran’s distinguished paintings of Yellowstone, particularly The Great Cañon of the Yellowstone (1871), were not lost on Powell. He understood that photography alone couldn’t capture the depth of field nor reproduce the radiant color of the desert landscape. Powell needed to fuel interest to support and continue his survey work, and only Moran could feed Eastern audiences’ unquenchable thirst for grand and evocative images of the West. For Moran’s part, the invitation offered him a chance to explore new territory and to be associated with the now legendary Powell. Moran’s traveling companion during that summer of 1873 was New York Times writer J.E. Colburn with whom he shared a commission.

"It is widely known that when Moran translated his more literal and contoured field sketches to large oil paintings in his studio, he romanticized the scenes to evoke the sensations and impressions he had experienced on site. Like British landscape artist J. M. W. Turner, with whom he most closely aligned his style and philosophy, Moran made no secret of his method, telling a writer for American Painters Magazine, “I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature. My general scope is not realistic, all my tendencies are toward idealization...Topography in art is valueless...The forms are extremely wonderful and pictorial...I did not wish to realize the scene literally but to preserve and to convey the true impression.” After reading Powell’s account of his historic exploration of the Colorado River, Moran wrote to Powell reproaching him, “You do not once ... give your sensations even in the most dangerous passage, nor even hint at the terrible and sublime feelings that are stirred within one, as he feels himself in the jaws of the monstrous chasms.”

"Moran observed that, “Southern Utah is where Nature reveals herself in all her tumultuous and awe-inspiring grandeur... There is a cañon off the Rio Virgin known in the local Indian vernacular as Mu-koun-Tweap [sic], that for glory of scenery and stupendous scenic effects cannot be surpassed. Its cliffs rise up in rugged massiveness for 5000 feet, with some of the most peculiar formations believable toward the top. It is a marvelous piece of nature’s handiwork that is worth going a long distance to see.”

"Moran’s watercolor sketch of The Rio Virgin, Southern Utah, now in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, reveals more fidelity to the scene: it portrays more accurately the architecture of the narrow canyon, and it conveys less passion than the later easel painting in oil. Moran is at his best using compositional elements such as scale and distance. Using the narrow canyon and the white sandstone peak to scrape the sky, he framed the scene with a proscenium of rock outcroppings that are joined at the top of the canyon wall in the foreground to accentuate the vertiginous heights. Such a trope is a nod to literature and drama, which occupied his keen mind. Variations in a number of works reveal that he may have also added this device to an etching titled The Narrows, North Fork of the Rio Virgin, which was commissioned from a Hillers photograph and completed around 1874. Atmospheric perspective created by dissipating moisture create the illusion of depth of field—the source of the fine particles is the cool canyon walls and the mist churned up from the powerful current. While he maintains some of the tonal quality of his European and eastern scenes, he adapts his western sensibility to convey the strong contrasts of warm and cool colors and the naturally occurring complimentary colors of red sandstone and green found in the river and foliage—all combined to translate the strong emotion Moran felt in the presence of a canyon with mountains named after Gods."

The Estate of Daniel L. Berman, Salt Lake City, UT

A Personal View of the American West: Canvases from the Collection of Dan and Susan Berman, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT, 1999
A Century of Sanctuary: The Art of Zion National Park, The St. George Art Museum, St. George, UT, Aug 25, 2008-Jan 24, 2009
Bierstadt to Warhol, American Indians in the West, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, UT, Feb 14-Aug 11, 2013
Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks, BYU Museum of Art, Provo, UT, 2015

A Century of Sanctuary: The Art of Zion National Park, (Springdale, UT: Zion Natural History Association, 2008), p 28, illustrated
Donna L. Poulton & Vern G. Swanson, Painters of Utah’s Canyons and Deserts (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2009), p 131, illustrated


Thomas Moran

1837 – 1926

The Rio Virgin, Southern Utah (1917)
oil on canvas
20 × 16 inches
signed and dated lower right [fingerprint]
Sold at Auction: $651,000
Condition ReportSurface condition is good. Painting has been lined. Slight bar marks along top, bottom, and left sides. Slight craquelure in upper-right and lower-left corners. Several spots of inpainting throughout, primarily near the edge of frame.

Important Notice: Statements of condition are provided as a service to potential bidders; such statements are educated opinions and should not be regarded as facts. The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction has no responsibility for any errors or omissions.