John Henri Moser was a man of faith, whose art cannot be fully appreciated without considering his abiding spirituality. His family converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints while he was a child in Switzerland, and he never wavered in his devotion. While he was studying art in Paris from 1908–1910, he wrote home of the worldly activities that some of his fellow artists pursed in their free time. Moser, however, preferred taking solitary walks to commune with the natural world. During this formative period, he told wrote to his wife Aldine about his desire to share the gospel through the language of art, as; he believed he had been called to express God’s love by celebrating the beauty of all creation.
While he he found much to admire in the works of Modernist contemporaries in France, including Matisse, whose brave bold colorism broke through the boundaries of academic realism, Moser’s mature style explored territories his contemporaries rarely entered. For him, modern art’s exhilarating palette became a tool for expressing a deep faith in the transcendent and otherworldly glory of God.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), The Edwin Bridge, 1917, oil on canvas. Utah Division of Arts and Museums Fine Arts Collection.
Moser might be best known for painting the scenery of Northern Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, as he lived and worked in Cache Valley for a large portion of his life. Inspiration found him, however, wherever he went, and following his subjects is one way of tracing the artist’s life. In 1915, he accepted a position teaching at the Brand Agricultural College in Cedar City, Utah, where he found inspiration in the rock formation of the southern part of the state. His painting of Edwin Bride, now known as Owachomo Bridge, took first prize at the State Fair Art Competition, the premier artistic exhibition of the day. Following this success, the State of Utah purchased the painting, and it has been displayed in the State Capitol Building for many years.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Red Butte River, no date, oil on canvas. Courtesy of Church History Museum.
This painting has long been a visitor favorite at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah, where reproductions are sold in the museum store. The name and location, however, remain a mystery. No such place seems to exist in Utah, nor the surrounding states. While Moser often returned to inspiring locations, this view is a unique one. It is likely that this painting, indicative of Moser’s love and observation of the natural world, is a product of the artist’s imagination.