Reader points out an error in yesterdays article

Alan F. Houston wrote to me today pointing out what he perceived as mistakes in yesterday’s article on the Classic Landscapes.

“There is mistaken identity in the review (Herald, March 9, 2007) of the traveling exhibition now at FLC’s Southwest Center. In no way was Moran’s Mount of the Holy Cross related to the designation of Yellowstone as a national park. That legislation occurred in March 1872. Wm. H. Jackson first visited and photographed the mountain in 1873, and Thomas Moran first saw it and sketched it in 1874.

Also, Holy Cross Creek is not imaginary (although waterfalls probably are), but is not seen as the Mountain is viewed. Moran, as well as other artists, simply rotated the creek (or the mountain) into the foreground. This is also the view painted by Helen Chain in the same exhibition. Moran’s earlier versions of the Mount of the Holy Cross indeed show a creek or river (from about 1875).

Jackson’s photographs of the Mount AND Moran’s sketches, drawings, and his truly “grand” painting of the Grand Canon (Canyon) of the Yellowstone, the petitions of Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, the Northern Pacific RR, and others, all contributed to Yellowstone’s National Park status.

Finally, Yellowstone is in Wyoming while Holy Cross Mountain is in Eagle County, Colorado, about twenty miles SSW of Vail, Colorado.”

Mr. Houston is correct in one instance.

I mistakenly included the Holy Cross painting with the sketches and yellowstone paintings that Moran did that were instrumental in helping to preserve yellowstone as a national park. It was the original 1875 painting of the “Mount of the Holy Cross” that was exhibited in Philadelphia during the nation’s Centennial. Moran wanted to exhibit “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” (1872) and “Chasm of the Colorado” (1873-74) together to represent the sacred landscapes of the West, but Congress would not loan the other two paintings for the Philadelphia Exposition. The image of Mt. Holy Cross was instrumental in the progress vs preservation battle.

However, Mr. Houston is not correct in suggesting that Moran didn’t visit Yellowstone until 1873. According to the National Gallery of Art, Thomas Moran first saw Yellowstone in 1871 and then returned with Jackson to sketch the land.

Moran did paint his first image of the Holy Cross in 1875 and the creek and falls flow off to the left of the canvas in that image. Moran freely admits that he manipulated the location of the waterfall and creek in his paintings. There are many creeks and falls, but this one is technically “made up” in the painting and doesn’t exist as he depicts it in the image. In the image on display at CSWS, the water flows off to the right of the canvas. The Yale library suggests that Moran may have used a montage of Jackson photographs to create his paintings. In chromolithographs, Moran shows the Mountain with no waterfall or creek at all. I did not intend to suggest that the mountain does not exist, only that the rest of the painting is not as it exists in nature.

I grew up in Colorado and viewed the Holy Cross in Eagle County every summer. I didn’t think it necessary to mention that the mountain was in Colorado since the exhibition is about Colorado landscapes. All the images are from Colorado.

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