HCN misunderstood Moran

  Dear HCN,

I don't really want to quarrel with the main argument of Allen Best's essay, "The mythic West and the billionaire" (HCN, 2/26/01: The mythic West and the billionaire), but I think two observations concerning Thomas Moran might complicate it a bit. In the first place, Best is simply wrong in his assertion that Moran had not seen the Rockies in 1872. He was an important member of the Hayden expedition to Yellowstone in 1871, and his paintings from that trip helped to create the environment for the creation of the national park in 1872. Secondly, Moran (and a great many other Western painters) chose the subjects they did, not because of any conspiracy to delude the public, but out of a conviction that their art could conduct viewers to a perception, even an understanding, of the sublime. Along with the losses noted by Best, our civilization seems to have lost the interest in the sublime that was so important in the 19th century.

Robert E. Bonner
Northfield, Minnesota

Robert Bonner is professor of history and the liberal arts and director of American studies at Carleton College.