Lot 67
  • 67

THOMAS MORAN | Big Springs in Yellowstone Park

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Big Springs in Yellowstone Park
  • signed T. MORAN. and dated 1872. (lower right)
  • watercolor and gouache on paper
  • 9 1/2 by 19 1/2 inches
  • (24.1 by 49.5 cm)


Senator George F. Edmunds, Burlington, Vermont (gift from the artist)
Mary M. Edmunds, Pasadena, California
Ralph M. Dyer, Beverly Hills, California
By descent (daughter of the above), Phoenix, Arizona (sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, California, October 20, 1975, lot 100)
Private collection (acquired at the above sale; sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, April 23, 1982, lot 106)
Private collection (acquired at the above sale)
Rosenstock Arts, Denver, Colorado
William C. Foxley, 1982 (acquired from the above)
John F. Eulich, Dallas, Texas, 1985 (acquired from the above; sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 1998, lot 47)
Private collection (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, circa 1975 (on loan)
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; San Diego, California, The San Diego Museum of Art; Wichita, Kansas, Wichita Art Museum, Beyond the Endless River: Western American Drawings and Watercolors of the Nineteenth Century, January-June 1979, no. 26, illustrated p. 81
Fort Worth, Texas, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art; Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art; New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Art Gallery, The Most Remarkable Scenery: Thomas Moran's Watercolors of the American West, May 1980-January 1981, no. 3, p. 169
Denver, Colorado, Rosenstock Arts, Twenty-five Paintings: Classic Images of the American Westcirca 1982, illustrated, n.p.
Cody, Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, The Rocky Mountains: A Vision for Artists in the 19th Century, June-September 1983
Memphis, Tennessee, Dixon Gallery and Gardens; Peoria, Illinois, Lakeview Museum of Art and Sciences; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, National Cowboy Hall of Fame; Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hunter Museum of Art; Savannah, Georgia, Telfair Academy of Art; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Gallery and School of Art; Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Art; Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; Little Rock, Arkansas, Arkansas Art Center, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, September 1991-January 1995, p. 20, illustrated p. 21


Maurice Bloch, "American Watercolors," Architectural Digest, April 1977, p. 82, illustrated
Carol Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Fort Worth, Texas, 1980, no. 29, p. 127, illustrated p. 75
The International Art Market, vol. 12, June 1982, illustrated p. 139
Carol Clark, "The Connoisseur of Western American Drawings," Drawing, vol. 4, November-December 1982, illustrated p. 78
William C. Foxley, Frontier Spirit: Catalog of the Collection of The Museum of Western Art, Denver, Colorado, 1983, no. 10, illustrated p. 12
Rick Stewart, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, Dallas, Texas, 1986, p. 49, illustrated p. 48


Please contact the American Art department for this condition report: (212) 606 7280 or Laura.West@sothebys.com
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

In March 1871, the United States Congress appropriated $40,000 for the geological survey of the Yellowstone Territories to be led by Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, Columbus Delano. Along with his team of scientists and geologists, Hayden invited Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson to document the inherent artistic beauty of the region’s dramatic landscape. Moran was overwhelmed by the grandeur of Yellowstone, and wrote: “…the impression then made upon me by the stupendous and remarkable manifestations of nature’s forces will remain with me as long as memory lasts” (as quoted in Carol Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Austin, Texas, 1980, p. 11). The artist spent about forty days in the region and documented more than thirty different geological sites and natural vistas. These sketches and extensive color notes provided Moran with a portfolio of reference points that he consistently returned to throughout his career.

Big Springs in Yellowstone Park is a stunning example of Moran’s artistic capabilities as both a colorist and draughtsman. Showcasing his mastery of the medium, the present watercolor depicts the expedition’s survey of the geothermal springs at Yellowstone. The striking modulation of color and deft handling of multiple washes of watercolor echoes the work of J.M.W. Turner. A pencil sketch on the reverse reveals Moran’s meticulous process of under-drawing and compositional development. Through Moran’s scientific precision and clarity of detail, works such as Big Springs in Yellowstone Park were a catalyst for altering the public’s perception of the region’s undeniable natural value: “Moran’s art was responsible not only for introducing the appearance of Yellowstone to Americans, but also for contributing to the way that these places were understood.  What had been perceived as distant, sinister, and hellish places before 1870 became, through his portrayals, places of magnificence and wonder that could stand as important symbols of America’s uniqueness” (Mary Panzer, “Great Pictures of the 1817 Expedition: Thomas Moran, William Henry Jackson, and The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” Splendors of the American West: Thomas Moran’s Art of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, Birmingham, Alabama, 1990,p. 34).

Upon his return from the survey, Hayden wrote a complete account of his scientific findings and experiences. Illustrated with Moran’s sketches and Jackson’s photographs, Hayden’s report was presented to Congress in March 1872, alongside a bill that proposed to block the Yellowstone area from private land development. Since most members of Congress had never seen the region’s geological marvels, Moran’s sketches were fundamental to the Committee’s appreciation of Yellowstone’s natural artistic wonder. On March 1, after the bill passed unanimously in Congress, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act establishing Yellowstone National Park into law. Yellowstone became the first official national park, not only in the United States, but anywhere in the world. Senator Edmunds of Vermont, to whom Moran gave the present work, was one of the key supporters and major early proponents of the Yellowstone bill.

In a letter to Hayden upon his return to the East, Moran described the profound impact of the expedition and the artistic challenge presented by Yellowstone’s dramatic scenery:  “I have always held that the grandest, most beautiful, or wonderful in Nature would, in capable hands, make the grandest, most beautiful, or wonderful pictures; and the business of a great painter should be the representation of great scenes in nature. All the above characteristics attach to the Yellowstone region and if I fail to prove this, I fail to prove myself worth of [the] name of painter” (Thomas Moran letter to Ferdinand Hayden, March 11, 1872).