National Treasures Return to the Interior Museum for New Exhibition

Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced the “homecoming” of two iconic works of art for long-term display in the Interior Museum after being loaned to other museums by Secretary Udall in the late 1960s. The panoramic masterpieces, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872) and The Chasm of the Colorado (1873-1874), painted by nineteenth century artist Thomas Moran and purchased by the U.S. Congress in the early 1870s, are intertwined with the history of the Department and shaped nineteenth-century public opinion of the American West.

The seven-foot by twelve-foot landscape paintings anchor a new exhibition at the Interior Museum titled, Thomas Moran & the ‘Big Picture.’ In capturing the natural beauty of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, these historic canvases forever framed the discourse on public lands and influenced the creation of America’s national parks.

“In 1950, President Truman transferred Moran’s magnificent works of art to the permanent custody of Interior, and they were later loaned to other museums around the country by Secretary Udall in the late 1960s. I have believed for many years that these paintings should return to and be displayed at Interior,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “After a nearly continuous fifty-year absence, I’m glad that these two masterpieces are back at the Interior Museum, inspiring our visitors for their next camping trip, hike or outdoor experience.”

Thomas Moran produced both paintings from sketches he made while accompanying major expeditions to the American West. In 1871, Moran accompanied Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden’s geological and geographical survey of the Western Territories, which took him to Yellowstone. In 1873, Moran joined John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Colorado River Basin, where he saw the Grand Canyon.

Expedition leaders included artists on these surveys, because their sketches, photographs and paintings added dimensionality to their data and lent visual interest to the accounts conveyed in scientific journals and official reports to Congress.

Moran referred to both The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and The Chasm of the Colorado as a “big picture” in his correspondence. They are remarkable for their scale, detail, quality and influence. Revered among scholars and cherished by the general public, these paintings have remained on constant view since their debuts. They graced the halls of the U.S. Capitol for more than 75 years before being transferred by law to the Department of the Interior in 1950 by President Truman and later loaned out by Secretary Udall in the late 1960s.

The Interior Museum tells the stories of the Department’s multi-faceted mission, including America’s rich heritage of conserving and recreating on public lands. Recently, the museum completed a renovation that expanded its footprint by 2,000 square feet and created two new gallery spaces. One is the home of Thomas Moran & the ‘Big Picture,’ in which the works are presented to highlight their historical connection and influence in land management. The other gallery will showcase changing temporary exhibitions featuring cultural and scientific collections managed by the Department’s bureaus and offices from across the nation.

On September 26, the Department will celebrate National Public Lands Day, which is a fee free day across Department-managed federal lands. The theme, More Ways to Connect to Nature, recognizes the connection between people and green space in their community, inspires environmental stewardship, and encourages use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits, whether they are federal lands such as national parks and national wildlife refuges, or state or local parks. The exhibition, Thomas Moran & the ‘Big Picture,’ offers yet another way to experience public lands: through the eye of a renowned artist.

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