John Henri Moser: Painting Utah Modern
Through October 10, 2020
John Henri Moser explored the Utah landscape with painterly abandon, producing emotionally resonant landscapes with pink mountains, violet skies, and flame-orange trees. With vibrant colors and energetic brushstrokes inspired by European Modernism, he contemplated the spiritual and physical beauty of the natural world.
Born in Switzerland in 1876, Moser emigrated to Utah with his family at age 12, and spent his youth farming, working in a print shop, and mining, to earn money for college. He entered Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) studying engineering, but a lifelong interest in art and the mentorship of a faculty member who recognized his talents encouraged him to change course. With a loan from University president John A. Widtsoe, in exchange for Moser’s promise to return and teach at the college, the fledgling artist traveled to Paris in 1908 to study the academic tradition of Western art.
While French art academies provided a strong technical foundation in traditional art styles, many other influences vied for a young artist’s attention. The early twentieth century was one of the most exciting times to experience Paris, as modern artists shattered existing artistic styles and recombined their elements into a kaleidoscope of color and form. Picasso and Matisse, two of the most famous innovators of Modernism in France, were known to Moser, and were producing some of their most novel and challenging works during the years he called Paris home. While Moser’s own Parisian output was relatively conventional by comparison, the unexpected and seemingly spontaneous color experimentation of Matisse and others left their mark on Moser’s work. Before he left Paris for home, Moser warned his wife Aldine that his paintings may not be readily appreciated by a Utah audience unfamiliar with contemporary European styles.
Upon returning to Utah in 1910, Moser enjoyed the spiritual and emotional support of close friends and family—particularly his loving wife and their children. As he reconnected with the people and places he loved the most, Moser recognized his true artistic potential by using the visionary pallet of Parisian Modernism to express his awe and wonder at the world’s beauty. To look at the paintings of Moser’s mature period is to see the world through the artist’s eyes. While his personal style owed a debt to French Modernism, Moser set himself apart from the colorful experimentation of Matisse for whom color was an end in itself. For Henri Moser, color was the only artistic language fit to communicate his profound gratitude and love for life and all creation.
Although John Henri Moser’s paintings have been well collected in museums throughout the state of Utah, his works have never before had their own exhibition. As Utah’s first modernist, John Henri Moser’s paintings communicate artistic integrity through bright colors, loose brushstrokes, and an overall modern take on the Utah landscapes.
Explore each piece featured in the exhibition by clicking on an exhibition section below!
In the early twentieth century, European art swirled with possibilities. The art academies continued their reign over traditional art, emphasizing anatomical study and draughtsmanship for the purpose of producing representational masterpieces. Modernism, however, had gained ground with anti-academic experiments; it favored personal experience and expression over tradition. While John Henri Moser had come to Paris to study in the academic mode, he would also have been exposed to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists who reveled in experiential color and who rejected illusionistic form.
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, John Henri 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 was drawn to many types of views, yet a walk through this gallery reveals his affection for certain locations, such as Bear Lake, and the Tetons. Moser was far from the first artist to return again and again to certain locations.