For more than a century, a who’s who of talented artists have been making paintings of the Grand Canyon. Few, however, have achieved the notoriety of Thomas Moran.
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By Sally Benford
Grand Canyon By the time artist Thomas Moran made his first trip to the Grand Canyon with Major John Wesley Powell in the summer of 1873, he was already famous for his landscapes of the American West. The year before, Congress had purchased his massive painting, Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone, for $10,000 — a large sum at the time.
Yet, when Moran saw the Grand Canyon, he was even more inspired than he'd been at Yellowstone. He wrote to his wife, Mary, "The whole gorge for miles lay beneath us and it was by far the most awfully grand and impressive scene that I have ever yet seen."
Two years later, the artist duplicated his Yellowstone success, selling The Chasm of the Colorado, the painting that resulted from his Grand Canyon trip, to Congress for another $10,000. And that was just the beginning of Moran's relationship with the natural wonder.
Moran continued his painting excursions throughout the West, and soon the Grand Canyon became a favorite destination. In 1892, the Santa Fe Railroad hired Moran to paint various scenes of the Canyon, which the railroad reproduced on promotional materials — calendars, menus, posters and brochures — for Eastern tourists, hoping they'd buy a train ticket and head West to see the region's dramatic landscapes. After Moran's wife died in 1900, the artist spent the next 25 years traveling to Arizona, producing hundreds of different representations of the Canyon's magnificent vistas for the Santa Fe. At one point, Moran became so closely tied to the Canyon that the railroad used an image of the artist in their advertisements. Moran's renderings set the standard for other landscape artists, who, for more than a century, have fostered an appreciation of the natural wonder.
Although it was Moran's Yellowstone sketches, drawings and paintings from 1871 that helped convince Congress to protect portions of the American landscape as "a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of people," the Grand Canyon was his greatest source of inspiration. Years after he first saw it, he wrote, "Of all places on Earth, the great canyon of Arizona is the most inspiring in its pictorial possibilities."
Nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, including hundreds of artists, some of whom can be seen in action beginning next month during the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, a weeklong event that features some of today's top landscape artists. The event is sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association, and takes place from September 11 to November 28 on the South Rim.
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