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Shipwreck

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Shipwreck

Artist: Edward Moran (English, 1829-1901)

Date: 1862
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Framed: 45 x 69 x 4 1/2in. (114.3 x 175.3 x 11.4cm)
Overall: 30 x 40in. (76.2 x 101.6cm)
Signed: l.l.: 'E. Moran 1862'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 81.13
Label Text
At the time of his death in 1901 Edward Moran was eulogized as one of the most prominent marine painters of his generation. He began his career in Philadelphia in the mid-1850s, when the production of clipper ships in the United States was at its height, and Isambard K. Brunel (1806-59) launched his famous steamship, the Great Eastern, in England.

Sometime early in 1861, Edward traveled to England to study the paintings, watercolors, and sketches by the great English landscape and marine painter Joseph M.W. Turner (1775-1851) then displayed in London at the South Kensington Museum and the National Gallery. Later that year Edward followed Turner's footsteps on a sketching tour of the English Channel coast. After returning to Philadelphia he made an impressive account of himself by displaying at least seventeen works in the 1862 annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

One of the pictures he exhibited that year was titled Coast Scene near New Brunswick, owned at the time by the important Philadelphia collector Harrison Earle. Because the title of the Utica painting seems to have been given to the work before it was purchased by the Museum in 1981, it is possible that it is the painting originally owned by Earle. The tall pilings in the left background of the work suggest that the picture might depict a scene somewhere in the Bay of Fundy. Moran first traveled to the Atlantic coast of Canada in the late 1850s, and, although no pencil or oil sketches from this trip have been identified, the experience provided material for several paintings he executed over the next couple of years.

Paul D. Schweizer

Text Entries

At the time of his death in 1901 Edward Moran was eulogized as one of the most prominent marine painters of his generation. The author Hugh W. Coleman noted, for example, that “as a painter of the sea in its many moods and phases, Edward Moran, it is commonly admitted, had no superior in America.”(1) However, in spite of the wide- spread acclaim that he received in conservative art circles at the turn of the century, Moran’s reputation fell into obscurity shortly thereafter. In part, this decline can be blamed on the collapse of the academic tradition, but even in the early twentieth-century writings of America’s more conservative critics his work received little attention.(2) Today, while it is difficult to justify the unqualified praise that he received from figures such as Coleman, the contribution Moran made to the history of nineteenth-century American marine painting has been generally overlooked.

He began his career in Philadelphia in the mid-1850s, when the production of clipper ships was at its height in the United States, and Isambard K. Brunel launched his famous steamship, the Great Eastern, in England. During these years Edward helped to launch the artistic careers of two of his younger brothers, Thomas and Peter, as well as at least two other Philadelphia marine painters, Frank D. Briscoe and George E. Essig.

In his early years in Philadelphia, Moran admired Turner’s marine paintings, and his work entitled The Shipwreck of c. 1858 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) is clearly indebted—probably through an intermediary source—to Turner’s Wreck of a Transport Ship (Fundagao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon).(3) Taking his cue from that painting, Moran composed a picture that showed the sea triumphing over man and his works, compelling the viewer to meditate on the fragility of human existence.

Also during these years, Turner’s The Harbors of England was published with a commentary prepared by John Ruskin. Whatever knowledge Moran had at that time of Turner’s marine paintings would have been augmented by Ruskin’s descriptive prose, as well as by his discussion of Turner’s fascination with shipwrecks and drowning sailors, and his wildly romantic depictions of a heaving sea.(4) Moran’s knowledge of contemporary English painting would also have been enhanced by the important exhibition of paintings by Turner, Clarkson Stanfield, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites, and others that toured New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in 1857 and 1858.(5)

Sometime early in 1861, Edward and his brother Thomas traveled to England to study the paintings, watercolors, and sketches by Turner that were displayed in London at the South Kensington Museum and the National Gallery. Later that year Edward followed Turner’s footsteps on a sketching tour of the channel coast. This sojourn had a beneficial effect on Moran’s productivity, for after returning to Philadelphia he made an impressive account of himself by displaying at least seventeen works in the 1862 annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.(6)

One of the pictures he displayed that year was a work entitled Coast Scene near New Brunswick, owned at the time by the important Philadelphia collector Harrison Earl. Because the title of the Utica painting seems to have been given to the work around 1981 when it was on the art market, it is possible that it is the painting originally owned by Earl.(7) In the background at the left, tall pilings protect the fishing village from the pounding surf, suggesting that this painting might depict a scene somewhere in the Bay of Fundy. Moran first traveled to the Canadian maritimes in the late 1850s, and, although no pencil or oil sketches from this trip have been discovered, the experience provided material for a number of paintings he executed over the next years.

 

Notes

1. Hugh W. Coleman, “Passing of a Famous Artist, Edward Moran,” Brush and Pencil, vol. 8 (July 1901), p. 191.

2. For example, there is no mention of Edward Moran in Samuel Isham’s History of American Painting (1905), nor is he discussed to any great length in Charles Caffin‘s Story of American Painting (1907).

3. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Shipwreck is illustrated on the cover of Paul D. Schweizer, Edward Moran 1829-1901: American Marine and Landscape Painter, exhibition catalog (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1979). A replica of this work was sold in New York City by the Kenneth Lux Gallery in 1979.

4. John Ruskin, The Harbors of England, in The Complete Works of John Ruskin, ed. by E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1904) PP. 13-49.

5. Susan P. Casteras, “The 1857-58 Exhibition of English Art in America: Critical Responses to Pre-Raphaelitism,” in Linda S. Ferber and William H. Gerdts, The New Path: Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites, exhibition catalog (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1985), pp. 109-33.

6. Schweizer, p. 22. For a list of the titles of the paintings Moran exhibited at the Academy in Philadelphia in 1862, see Anna W. Rutledge, ed., Cumulative Record of Exhibition Catalogues: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1955), P. 49.

7. Two other paintings Moran exhibited during and shortly after 1862, one of which may be the correct title for the Utica painting, are St. John’s near Halifax, exhibited in Buffalo and Rochester in 1862 and later, and Bay of Fundy, which was show in in 1864. at the Great Central Fair in Philadelphia. See James L. Yarnall and William H. Cverdts. comps., Index to American Art Exhibition Catalogues (Boston: G.K. Hall 8: Co., 1986), vol. 4, pp. 2461-62.

 

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