Edward Moran was born in England in 1829, the son of a clothmaker. By the time of his death in 1901, he was considered one of America’s great marine artists.
The loom held no fascination for the young Moran, who drew and sketched, sometimes on cloth, between his duties working for his father. After his family moved to America, Moran was apprenticed to Philadelphia artist James Hamilton, who encouraged Moran’s love of marine painting. By the 1850s, Moran had made enough of a name for himself to attend the Royal Academy of Arts in England. After returning to America, he married, trained his wife as a landscape artist, and set to work himself. In 1871, he hosted a 75-painting exhibition of his work in New York, donating the proceeds to refugees from the Franco-Prussian War.
In 1885, Moran was at the height of his fame, ready to create perhaps his most famous series: 13 paintings that illustrate episodes in early America’s maritime history. The work features Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus and Admiral George Dewey, head of the U.S. Navy, among others.
Moran’s artistic style is well displayed in “Hove-to for a Pilot.” It depicts the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia during the Great Age of Sail. With some of the world’s highest tides and strongest currents, this waterway is a perilous place for ships and sailors, a reality that Moran shows with storm clouds in the distance. A patch of blue follows, and a shaft of sun highlights turbulent waves around a square-rigger in the foreground. Sails backed, she and her two mates are ready to take on a pilot, who can barely be seen clambering up from a wave-tossed rowboat.Moran captured a dangerous moment in a dangerous job. In this and other works, he chose big subjects and painted big canvases (“Hove-to” is 42 by 60 inches) with detail that has been called “truth of nature.” One admirer said, “As a painter of the sea in its many moods, Edward Moran had no superior in America.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.