Thomas Moran is well-known for his dynamic and stunning paintings of the Western landscape, with visibly active brushwork and a rich palette suggesting an American JMW Turner. The appeal of Moran’s work derives from his firsthand experience of the West, as he accompanied some of the first government-funded surveys of territories west of the Mississippi after the Civil War, including what is now Yellowstone National Park. These surveys not only charted unmapped terrain, they also tested new theories of geological development against the dramatic landscape forms of the West. This presentation will situate Moran’s work in relation to these efforts, in particular theories about the formation of the Grand Canyon put forward by John Wesley Powell in his survey of the Colorado River. Much of what is striking about Moran’s paintings can be connected to drawings he made to illustrate Powell’s unique ideas about how the Grand Canyon was created.
Matt Johnston is a professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He researches and writes about prints, science, and popular culture in the United States during the 1800s. Most recently he has written a book about landscape illustrations, new types of print materials, and Manifest Destiny: Narrating the Landscape: Print Culture and American Expansion in the Nineteenth Century (Oklahoma 2016).