Date of Degree
Helena E. Wright
American Art and Architecture | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Women's History
Art History, American Art History, Landscape, Painting, Printmaking, Nineteenth Century
This dissertation is the first comprehensive study dedicated to the work of American painter-etcher Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899), an innovative printmaker and influential interpreter of the American landscape. She began her career in 1863, studying drawing and painting with her husband, artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Throughout the 1870s, she exhibited works at both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design, and published wood engraved illustrations in books and popular monthly magazines. Yet it was in the medium of etching that she achieved her greatest recognition: between 1879 and her untimely death in 1899, she executed an extensive oeuvre of expressively etched, tonal landscapes that nostalgically preserve America’s agrarian past as it was beginning to disappear.
Working primarily in East Hampton, Long Island – where she and Thomas Moran built a home-studio in 1884 – she also traveled extensively throughout her career etching landscapes of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, California, Scotland, and Wales. Her technical expertise and inventive approach to printmaking, which included experiments with tools, techniques, inks, and papers, placed her at the forefront of the etching revival – a movement that aimed to promote original etching as the preeminent medium capable of conveying personal, autographic expression. Nimmo Moran was a major contributor to this popular and influential movement, which began in France and England in the 1860s, before reaching its height in the United States in the 1880s. She was the first woman elected to both the New York Etching Club and London’s Society of Painter-Etchers, and her prints were widely exhibited and critically acclaimed in cities across the United States and in Europe.
While her skilled and innovative works placed her on the cutting edge of American printmaking, this dissertation argues that Nimmo Moran used the newly revived medium of etching to promote a nostalgic vision of nature. I contend that her etchings visually preserve the landscape of America’s eastern seaboard, idealizing a pastoral past in the face of an increasingly industrialized present. As a result, her etchings appealed to an urban clientele, satisfying their growing demand for original, expressive, and affordable works of art, while also providing visual respite for those seeking to escape the complexities of modern-industrial life. I analyze her landscape aesthetic amidst the rise of American Tonalism, revealing the ways in which she deftly manipulated the etching medium to create harmonious tones in monochrome. Her oeuvre thus illustrates the importance of etching to the development of the Tonalist aesthetic in American painting, printmaking, and photography at the end of the nineteenth century.
Vittoria, Shannon, "Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899)" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.