Thomas Moran, 1881, oil on canvas
Framed: 109.22 x 203.2 x 15.24 cm (43 x 80 x 6 in.), Overall: 63.5 x 157.5 cm (25 x 62 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
In the 1860s, Thomas Moran, an artist from Philadelphia, was hired as a lead illustrator for Scribner’s Monthly, a magazine job that later paved the way for his career as one of the 19th century’s most renowned and prolific landscape painters of the American West. In 1871 the director of the United States Geological Survey invited Moran to join him on an expedition team into an unknown region of Yellowstone; Moran would be the first artist to record this natural marvel pictorially. Before he reached this ultimate destination, however, Moran discovered Green River, Wyoming. Struck by its beauty, grandeur, and luminosity, he returned to the subject repeatedly over the years.
Although Green River, Wyoming, was an up-and-coming railroad town when Moran first arrived, Moran’s landscape contains no trace of building structures, railroads, construction, or modern civilization. Rather, his depiction of Green River is an imagined picture of the American West pre–Manifest Destiny, pre–Industrial Revolution, illustrating a symbiotic and idealized relationship between the Native people and the land. Moran masterfully paints the textures, colors, and radiance of the scene to evoke emotional wonder and subjectivity. In turn, the painting is in itself a paradigm of the American relationship with the West: the ambivalence between a desire to conquer it and a nostalgic appreciation for its beauty and scope.