Sunday, June 16, 2013

Scandalous Colors

Thomas Moran, an American painter, shocked his viewers at the end of the 19th century because of his use of color. A familiar story with a happy ending. Today, his work is appreciated for its adventurous coloration. Time helps our eyes adjust to innovations in color. 
Tulsans are fortunate to have this exhibit available. Note the arrow to the right of the picture and see more of this American colorist's works. BBL

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The images by Thomas Moran now on display at the Gilcrease Museum were considered scandalous when they first appeared in 1876.

Not for their subject matter - the area now known as Yellowstone National Park and other locations in the American West - but for the way they were created.

"There was a lot of criticism at the time for these being 'mechanically produced,' and 'dehumanized,' " said Carole Klein, associate curator of art at Gilcrease. "It's ironic in a way because the amount of effort it took to create these images is incredible."

The images in question are a series of chromolithographs - full-colored prints created through the process of using ink on specially prepared stones - that Moran was commissioned to create for a special portfolio that was to commemorate the nation's centennial.

"Most lithographs are monochrome - the image is drawn on the stone, the ink is applied, and the print made," Klein said. "When you begin adding color, then each shade of color needs to be applied to its own individual stone. And some of these images required as many as 50 stones to create the final print."

And a few of the images on display in "Yellowstone and the West: The Chromolithographs of Thomas Moran" bear traces of Moran's handwritten notes about the quality of the color or the intensity of the values.

"Yellowstone and the West: The Chromolithographs of Thomas Moran" is organized by Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb., and the Denver Art Museum.

Gilcrease is the first venue to exhibit the show, which it has augmented with prints and paintings from its own collection of works by Thomas Moran.

The chromolithographs were commissioned by a Boston printer, Louis Prang. Moran created 24 watercolor paintings - using his own sketches, as well as photographs of his colleague William Henry Jackson as inspiration - of places within the Yellowstone region, as well as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Colorado's Mountain of the Holy Cross and others.

Prang selected 15 images to be transformed into color prints. They were to be bound into a large portfolio with an essay Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, leader of the 1871 U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Territories of which Moran and Jackson were a part.

Prang created 1,000 copies of the portfolio but sold only 100. A fire later destroyed all but 50 of the remaining copies.

The Gilcrease exhibit includes the 15 chromolithographs - some of which are on loan for the exhibit from the museum's collection - along with supporting images and photographs, such as William Henry Jackson photograph next to the painting it inspired.

In addition, Gilcrease has filled the other two rooms in the gallery with other paintings by Moran during his extensive travels through the United States and beyond.

When: Through Sept. 8

Where: Gilcrease Museum, 1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road

Admission: $8. 918-596- 2700, 

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