Notes From the Catalogue: Mary Nimmo Moran

The following essay was contributed to Swann’s upcoming American Art catalogue by Shannon Vittoria, a Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Vittoria is currently writing her doctoral dissertation, Nature and Nostalgia in the Art of Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899), with the support of a Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowship in American Art.
Mary Nimmo Moran, The Garden Path, Easthampton, oil on artist’s board, 1894. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.
 
Moran’s The Garden Path, Easthampton depicts the sun-speckled walkway lining the south side of the artist’s home-studio in Easthampton, Long Island. The scene is framed on the left by the Queen Anne-style sash windows of the studio’s turret, built in 1884, and on the right by the blossoming flowers and lush vegetation of the artist’s garden. Placing her easel in her backyard, Moran executed this oil on panel painting en plein air. Daughter Ruth Moran described her mother painting ‘the old trees of Easthampton that she loved so much,’ one of which arcs over the garden path to create a natural archway in the composition. Her careful rendering of sunlight and shadows, as well as the textural variations and vibrant colors of the surrounding greenery and flowering buds, reveals not only her devotion to nature, but also the influence of Impressionist aesthetics on American landscape painting in the 1890s. 
 
Photo courtesy of the East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection
Born in Scotland in 1842, Mary Nimmo immigrated to the United States at the age of ten. She began her artistic career in 1863, studying drawing and painting with her husband, artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Although best known today for her original etchings–a medium she pursued beginning in 1879–she also exhibited landscape paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and the National Academy of Design, New York, in the 1860s and 1870s. These works earned her critical recognition and she was described in a preeminent American art journal as ‘a professional artist who does excellent work, although totally unlike that produced by her eminent husband . . . She paints in water colors as well as oils, and receives numerous commissions for pictures.’ 

Mary Nimmo Moran spent her first summer in Easthampton in 1878. Five years later, she and Thomas Moran purchased a plot of land on Main Street, where they built the town’s first permanent artist home-studio (designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965). In the 1880s and 1890s, the Morans’ home-studio was a gathering place for New York City-based artists, writers and intellectuals. The interior served as a workshop, meeting space and informal gallery for the display of fine art, furnishings and decorative bric-a-brac that the couple collected from around the world. The exterior gardens played an equally important role in the overall artful atmosphere of the home-studio, inspiring several painted and etched works by both Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran. 
 
Photo courtesy of the East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection
In addition to her career as a professional artist, Nimmo Moran was an avid gardener–a middle-class leisure pursuit popularized in the 1890s by the American garden movement. She appears in photographs from the mid-1880s amidst chrysanthemums later featured in The Garden Path, Easthampton
 
This painting was executed in 1894, just five years before the artist’s untimely death from typhoid fever (which she contracted while caring for soldiers returning from the Spanish American War at a military camp constructed in nearby Montauk). It is one of only two extant oil paintings from this period in the artist’s career and it embodies her dedication to plein air painting, her passion for gardening and her deep commitment to depicting the American landscape. 
 
This painting is to be featured in our American Art sale on June 4.