“The Much Resounding Sea” is among the works by Thomas Moran which will be on view at Guild Hall.
By Tessa Raebeck
It has hung on the walls of private estates, world-renowned collections and the National Gallery of Art, but after 129 years of traveling, “The Much Resounding Sea” will finally return home to East Hampton this weekend.
Created by Thomas Moran in 1884, the same year he built his house on Main Street, the 6-foot painting is one of many that will be on display as part of Guild Hall’s exhibition, “Tracing Moran’s Romanticism & Symbolism.”
“It’s coming back to East Hampton for the first time ever,” said Phyllis Braff, guest curator for the exhibit. “What’s so fascinating is he painted it based on his observation and his study of the East Hampton beach.”
Moran, said Braff, never painted outdoors directly in front of his subject like other landscape painters. A true romanticist, he instead worked from memory in his Main Street studio, right down the street from Guild Hall.
“A romantic painter is a painter who responds to the emotional aspect, trying to make his work kind of a parallel to emotional feelings rather than copying what you see out there,” explained Braff. The show aims to reveal the connection cultivated by Moran between his paintings and the larger world in which he lived.
Inspired by the feelings of his era, Moran chose subject matter that would resonate with his audience. Titles for his works are derived from contemporary poetry and literature, such as “Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower Came,” taken from an 1855 poem by Robert Browning (who in turn took the line from Shakespeare’s “King Lear”).
“Moran was inspired to do this wonderful painting based on this last line of the poem,” explained Braff. “It has this very dramatic red dye – you know immediately it’s filled with symbolism.”
Painted just four years later in 1859, “Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower Came” is the earliest work in the show and represents the very beginning of Moran’s career. “Moran’s audience at that time saw him as a very timely sophisticated artist,” Braff said. “They would have understood him perfectly.”
If inspired by his contemporaries, Moran was awed by his surroundings. He is renowned as part of the “Rocky Mountain School” of artists, an historical grouping of prominent 19th century American landscape painters. Included in Guild Hall’s exhibition is “Above Tower Falls,” a 1917 painting depicting the remarkable peaks of the Western Territories.
Moran was a prominent figure in spearheading the creation of our National Parks; geologists used his 1872 painting “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” to argue for federal conservation and, subsequently, a moved Congress not only created Yellowstone National Park, but also purchased the oil on canvas, giving the Capitol its first piece of artwork.
Moran gained national recognition for his landscapes of the Western frontier, but starting in 1878, much of his work expressed the natural beauty of the East End. “East Hampton Beach,” included in the exhibition, represents Main Beach, just a short walk from the Main Street studio he designed, aptly named “The Studio.” Completed in 1894, the painting demonstrates his iconic symbolism. As with his other landscapes, Moran painted not based off of an image in front of him, but rather on the feelings still present within him from having seen that image.
“We’re pointing to ways in which he used pictorial devices to underscore his messages, in terms of how he handled the clouds or the moon or the sea or the people or the figures that he put in,” said Braff. Through iconography, she said, Moran enabled his audience to essentially “read” a painting.
Historically interested in Moran due in large part to his expertise, but also because he lived in their neighborhood, Guild Hall owns four of his oil paintings, three watercolors and 20 works on paper, as well as an 1891 bust of the artist by Jonathan Scott Hartley and an oil portrait of Moran done by Howard Russell Butler circa 1922.
The featured works cover Moran’s career from 1859 to 1917. In addition to several landscapes of Main Beach, included in the exhibition is an 1879 print of the Montauk Lighthouse and the 1909 oil on canvas, “Glimpse of the Sea, Amagansett, L.I.”, as well as a variety of paintings, etchings and other works.
Whether you recognize the lines from Homer’s Iliad in the titles or the local beaches in the paintings, just like “The Much Resounding Sea,” Thomas Moran beckons you to come and be a part of his return home.
“Tracing Moran’s Romanticism & Symbolism” will open at The Museum at Guild Hall on Saturday, October 26 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. and be on display through January 5, 2014. A Thomas Moran Gallery Talk with guest curator Phyllis Braff will be held on Sunday, November 3 at 2 p.m.