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156 Western American Literature Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West. Text and Catalogue Raisonne by Carol Clark. (Austin: The University of Texas Press for the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, 1980. 180 pages, $25.00.) Thomas Moran’s work has been extravagantly praised and roundly condemned by art critics of his own and later times. He has survived through it all. James Thomas Flexner flirted with both extremes by describ­ ing the artist as “a gifted illustrator deformed by elephantiasis.” Certainly some of Moran’s celebrated oils such as Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Chasm of the Colorado were huge. Yet their size matched their subjects, did much to awaken citizen pride in the grandeur of the American West, and brought Moran recognition and fame. His oils were also the culmina­ tion of pencil and watercolor field sketches and finished studio watercolors, and these are the subjects of Carol Clark’s engaging work. Moran was born in England in 1837, was brought to the United States at age seven, and learned wood engraving and illustration in Philadelphia. He experimented with etching and lithography, and at twenty-one exhibited a watercolor at the Pennsylvania Academy. On a return visit to England he became a disciple of the late British painter, J. M. W. Turner, but while he was influenced by Turner’s work he had no doubts about himself: “Fll paint as an American, on an American basis, and American only.” For an artist to render subjects sight unseen and almost out of pure imagination is tantamount to placing the cart before the horse, and yet that was essentially how Moran was introduced to the West and to the Yellow­ stone country, a region whose imagery became central to his career. The 1870 Langford-Washburn-Doane expedition to the Yellowstone had no artist and brought back only primitive sketches by two untutored members. Moran was selected by the editor of Scribner’s to supply woodblock engravings from these scratchings to illustrate two Langford articles. By publication time Moran was on his way to the Yellowstone as artist of the Hayden expedition of 1871, the first professional to see and record nature at its most sublime and experience, as his daughter saw it, “a great spiritual revelation and upheaval” (21). In a chapter on Moran and nineteenth-century watercolor esthetics, Clark traces the timeless contentions surrounding the oil-versus-watercolor debate as it related to Moran and the world of art criticism. As for method, style, symbolism, representation, truth, Moran is quoted as stating that “I place no value upon literal transcripts from Nature. My general scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization . . .” (30). This is a book of substance and charm, perhaps more for the profes­ sional than the lay reader, yet fruitful for both. It contains sixty Moran watercolors, ten in full color. It is unfortunate that the tyranny of costs denied more liberal use of color; watercolors, especially, demand color. One wonders whether additional use of color would have erased or rein­ Reviews 157 forced an uneasy impression of sameness in the tones of many of those presented in that medium. Yet, taken one by one, Thomas Moran’s watercolors were, are, evocative and rewarding. He had the faculty of pulling the viewer “into a miniature world of suggested immensity” (26). There is no doubt that he did justice to the sublimity of the frontier region. “The American West,” Clark points out, “yielded the perfect landscape for the expansionist, patriotic, and romantic nineteenth-century mind embodied in Thomas Moran” (21). WILLIAM GARDNER BELL U.S. Army Center of Military History Bret Harte: A Reference Guide. By Linda D. Barnett. (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1980. 427 pages, hardbound, $38.00.) This comprehensive reference guide is a most welcome addition to G. K. Hall’s rapidly growing list of quality reference volumes. Barnett has made a major revision of her Harte secondary sources listing that appeared in the Summer and Fall, 1972, issue of American Literary Realism. Errors have been corrected, needed additions have been included, and her listing (through 1977) cites some significant recent Harte scholarship, such as the Fall, 1973, Bret...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 156-157
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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