Lot 49
  • 49

THOMAS MORAN | The Last Arrow

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • The Last Arrow
  • signed Thomas Moran and dated and inscribed 1867/OP-25 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 52 by 79 inches
  • (132.1 by 200.7 cm)


Mr. Baird, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1868 (acquired directly from the artist) 
Holland Galleries, New York, 1915
Zenas Crane, Dalton, Massachusetts, 1915 (acquired from the above)
Gift to the present owner from the above, 1915


New York, The Artists' Fund Society, February-March 1868
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Hudson River School and the Early American Landscape Tradition, February-May 1945, no. 140, illustrated p. 122
Riverside, California, The Picture Gallery, University of California, Thomas Moran: 1837-1926, April-June 1963, no. 5, illustrated p. 28
New York, National Academy Museum, The Legacy of Asher B. Durand: Landscapes from the Berkshire Museum, July-December 2007, no. 27, n.p.


Thomas Moran, Opus List, 1863-68, no. 25
Clara E. Clement and Laurence Hutton, Artists of the Nineteenth Century and Their Works, Boston, Massachusetts, 1894, p. 129
Stuart C. Henry to Ruth B. Moran, Letter in the Thomas Moran Biographical Collection, East Hampton Free Library, East Hampton, New York, August 16, 1937
James B. Wilson, The Significance of Thomas Moran as an American Landscape Painter, Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1955, p. 107
Thurman Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1966, pp. 52-53; 1998 ed., pp. 69-70
Nancy K. Anderson, Thomas Moran, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 354, illustrated
"American Paintings in the Collection of the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts," The Magazine Antiques, November 1982, p. 1057, illustrated


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In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Thomas Moran was born in Bolton, England in 1837 and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of seven, settling in a suburb outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A primarily self-taught artist, Moran spent time in the studio of his older brother Edward, an established marine artist, and trained himself in the Anglo-American style. He rose to prominence as one of the foremost American landscape painters whose panoramic views of The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, in particular, captured the American imagination. During a career that spanned nearly sixty years, Moran produced a remarkably varied body of work that documented his travels far beyond the American West, including landscapes of Long Island and England, views of Venice, seascapes, and paintings of the Pennsylvania countryside. By the time of his death in 1926, Moran had earned the nickname "the Dean of American Painters."

Set in the Adirondacks of northern New York, The Last Arrow depicts an event from the history of seventeenth-century Canada – the abduction of the Marquis de Frontenac’s adopted daughter and her subsequent rescue. According to the legend, the Marquis had adopted the daughter of an Iroquois Chief and raised her as his own child until she was taken prisoner by the Mohawks during one their many raids. In 1670, a Dutchman named Van Holst who had spent time with the tribe alerted the Marquis of the Mohawks' location and they embarked on an expedition to retrieve his beloved daughter. Kendago, a Mohawk Chief who had married the girl, hid her and their child in a mountain cave. After realizing he had been betrayed by Van Holst, Kendago followed Frontenac and his group to the cave. From a vantage point high above, Kendago fired his symbolic final arrow at the Marquis, which bounced off his armor and lodged into Van Holst’s chest. Moran's composition strays somewhat from the narrative, as his main concern was glorifying the natural world.

While the splendor of nature is undoubtedly the focal point, the presence of several human figures is unusual for Moran’s work. From the early years of his career, Moran was inspired by the landscape untouched by man and sought inspiration from not only his immediate surroundings, but also from historical sources and literature. He was largely influenced by the work of British artist J.M.W. Turner, who through his innovative landscapes was committed to elevating the genre to the level of history painting. Moran’s friend Richard Henry Stoddard wrote of the artist's unwavering quest for artistic stimulation, “He climbs the steepest Rocky Mountains; descends the deepest canyons; follows the wild streams of Utah to their sources, penetrates great forests and studies Indian life; voyages on the Atlantic; roams in Europe; plunges into the Adirondack wilderness and explores the savannas of the tropics” (as quoted in Thurman Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 1966, Norman, Oklahoma, p. 7).

In the summer of 1862, Moran traveled to England with his brother to further study Turner's work. He was especially interested in the artist’s treatment of light and spent hours looking at his paintings at London’s National Gallery. Moran was particularly impressed by Turner’s 1829 canvas Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (Fig. 2), which showcases the artist’s mastery in capturing the dynamic effects of nature. In fact, Moran was so fond of the painting that he made a meticulous copy that hung in his studio for years. These notions of light and color translated into many of the canvases Moran created upon his return to the United States, including The Last Arrow. While the present work channels the stillness of nature rather than the dynamism evident in Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, it showcases Moran’s attempt to replicate Turner’s luminosity as seen in the layer of haziness hovering above the mountains in the background.

Moran kept what he called an “Opus List” of his early works, those painted between August 1863 and November 1868. The Last Arrow is number 25, as indicated by the inscription below his signature in the lower right corner. Painted in 1867, it was the artist’s largest canvas to date. He notes on this list, “The picture was commenced in Paris & nearly finished there…but was entirely remodeled & repainted on my return. 8 weeks in painting it” (as quoted in Nancy K. Anderson, Thomas Moran, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 354).  Moran later examined the painting at New York’s Holland Galleries in 1915 and declared it to be “one of the most important of my works of that period.”

Moran’s landscapes present a grand vision of light, space and the majesty of nature in a real or imaginary world. Works like The Last Arrow reveal his virtuosity as a landscape painter and his technical brilliance. In 1900, one critic observed: “Essentially a colorist, a master of technique and form, Thomas Moran is beyond all else an ‘individualist.’  He has never been a mere copyist, even of nature. All that he does is directed by an imagination so poetical, and yet so clear and truthful that his work is more akin to creation than reproduction” (Richard Lagegast, Truth Magazine, September 1900 in Anderson, p. 265).

This work will be included in Stephen L. Good's and Phyllis Braff's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.