In the summer of 1904, Thomas Moran took his second trip to Yosemite Valley. Accompanied by his daughter Ruth, he toured the area on horseback, sketching the wondrous landscapes and magnificent views they met on their way. The tour resulted in a collection of paintings depicting the natural wonders of Western America, and its lush forests, rolling hills, and raucous waterfalls were made known through the artist’s work.
This piece is one of the magnificent products of that trip. Finished in 1913, this oil on canvas, now in possession of private collectors, fills its relatively small space with the great American outdoors. It is, as mentioned, part of a greater collection of paintings which includes oils and watercolors, and was said to have been instrumental in the environmentalist campaign that would result in the creation of Yosemite National Park, now one of California’s great natural attractions with its waterfalls and lush forest.
Its composition follows a well-established tradition in landscape painting, with the main feature in the optical center, further in the back of the painting, framed by features that would be closer to the observer, creating an illusion that one is really in that place, experiencing that view. It could, to an extent, be compared to J. W. M. Turner’s The Old Mill, Ambleside in composition, down to the river flowing down the middle of the canvas.
But what differentiates Thomas Moran’s work and, in many ways, the Hudson River School, from other landscape artists is that here an effort is made to omit all human influence from the scene. Other landscape painters would usually either portray a small measure of human influence, like a campsite or a cabin at least or even graft the human influence onto a landscape that in reality would be mostly untouched.
An explanation offered to that is that, due to the dominant schools of thought in the 19th century pretty much extolling the reach of human influence over the world, it would have been par for the course for an artist to take that to the canvas, so that the value of nature exists only in conjunction to the human observer. Conversely, for Moran and his peers, natural beauty carries value upon itself, even more so if it is free of human influence.
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