MORAN, Thomas (1837-1926)
Head of Yellowstone River
Boston: L. Prang and Co., 1876. Chromolithograph, on original card mount. Image size: 9 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches. Framed. Provenance: Zaplin Lampert Gallery (label on verso of frame).
Thomas Moran's finest published work and a masterpiece of American chromolithography.
This stunning view is based on Thomas Moran's work during Ferdinand V. Hayden's 1871 expedition to northwestern Wyoming, the first survey of what would become Yellowstone National Park. During that summer, Moran laid the basis for some of his most famous works rendered in watercolor, oil and here in chromolithograph. This series of fifteen plates, published in a portfolio titled The Yellowstone National Park and the Mountain Regions of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah , were the first to adequately depict the spectacular scenery of Yellowstone, and have long been considered the most skillful and striking prints of the park. Indeed, these images helped define the American West for much of the public.
Louis Prang was the greatest color-printer of his day, and he declared this work his masterpiece. At the time of its production in 1876, it was certainly the most elaborate and successful work of chromolithographic printing undertaken in the United States. Printed on card using numerous lithographic stones to give incredible depth of color, the intended result was to give the prints the appearance of the original paintings. A contemporary review in The Nation declared the prints to bear remarkable likeness to the original watercolors, "an accuracy which we do not think could have been surpassed in any country." The review continues by praising Moran's artistic sense, "the boldness and facility of the drawing are really impressive." Another reviewer termed the work "a genuine triumph of American graphic art."
Moran himself praised Prang's efforts, writing to him in 1876: "It is in every respect a most sumptuous & magnificent work....It seems to me that Chromo-Lithography has, in your hands, attained perfection so skillfully have you reproduced every shade and tone of color of the originals."
The work's publication marked "the beginning of [Prang's] dominance of the finest American chromolithographic work in the last quarter of the century" (Reese). Bennett concurs, writing, the book is "marvelously reproduced...hand work could never give the effect of perspective and distance achieved in the towering scenes reproduced here." McClinton declares Prang's work to be a "monument of American bookmaking" and the "prints have never been surpassed as examples of the best American chromolithography...unexcelled among illustrations of the Far West." Kinsey aptly sums up Moran's efforts: "Had he done nothing else, Moran would be remembered for this series, which remains a landmark in publishing history."
Howes H338; Graff 1830; Eberstadt 127:310; Bennett, p. 80; K.M. McClinton Chromolithographs of Louis Prang p. 159; Joni Kinsey, "Moran and the Art of Publishing" in Thomas Moran (Washington: 1997), pp. 318-319; Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolours of the American West, pp. 43-45; Reese, Stamped with a National Character 99.