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. Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne, two artists whose influence was still reverberating through Paris during Moser’s French sojourn, are well known for painting locations in series. Claude Monet’s paintings of haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, and the British Houses of Parliament, show the artist’s dedication to capturing the atmospheric qualities of color, as the weather, season, and even time of day create exciting differences in the viewer’s perception of color. Paul Cezanne’s repeated visits to Mount St. Victoire reveal the artist’s personal evolution, as over time his paintings grew less interested in detailed representation and more concerned with geometric form and pure color.
Moser’s many paintings of his favorite locations likewise show the artist’s personal vision, his way of always seeing the world as if for the first time. The artist’s granddaughter, Sharron Brim, recalls her grandfather marveling at nature’s beauty, even when he was surrounded by familiar views.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Bear Lake Cliff, no date, oil on masonite. Sharron Brim Collection.
In 1917, Moser moved his family to Southern Idaho to establish a homestead. The Mosers eventually settled in Cache Valley, Utah, and remained there until Moser’s death.
Although Moser was fond of using Fauvist-inspired colors to depict nature, his modernist tendencies stopped short of spatial abstraction. His landscapes always retained three-dimensionality and he showed no interest in Picasso’s Cubist fracturing of space.
Furthermore, while the use of bold, pure color was an end in itself in Fauvism, Moser applied brilliant colors with choppy, confident brushstrokes to capture and accentuate the beauty of divine creation.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Pink Mountain, no date, oil on canvas on board. Courtesy of the Sharron Brim Collection.
Moser was known for his love of nature, as well as for an enthusiasm for his own work. Those who knew him well attest that he often said his most recent painting was his best. Strangely, this seems not to have been the case with this gorgeous canvas, which the artist’s granddaughter, Sharron Brim, rescued from the trash while cleaning out Moser’s studio. Finding an old canvas wadded up in a ball, she was shocked to see such a beautiful composition tossed aside.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Green Aspens, Blue Background, no date, oil on canvas on board. Sharron Brim Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Untitled, 1920, oil on canvas. Gift of Ida Mae S. McKay. Collection of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Sardine Canyon, no date, oil on board. Courtesy of the Susan and Mark Callister Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Orchard in Spring, South of Wellsville, 1926, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Springville Museum of Art.
“When I come home, people will not understand my work…. It takes years for people to open their eyes and look.”
– John Henri Moser, Paris, 1910
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Goatherd, 192, oil on canvas. Sharron Brim Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Bluebonnets, 1928, oil on board. Sharron Brim Collection.
In the late 1920, Moser was invited to participate in a competition in Texas sponsored by the San Antonio Art League. Moser’s entry, this charming painting of the Texas state flower, did not take first place, though anecdotal reports suggest that many felt it should have. In any case, Moser evokes a joyous mood with this landscape, as the field of bluebonnets leads the viewer’s eye toward the rolling horizon in the distance. As is typically the case with Moser, the emotional impact of this painting far outweighs the artist’s interest in providing a detailed visual description of the scenery.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Spring Aspens, no date, oil on panel. Purchased with funds from Friends of the Art Museum and partial gift of Genevieve Lawrence, Permanent Collection, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Where Morning Breaks, 1935, oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Thomas, Permanent Collection, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah.
Moser lived during turbulent times. Yet, throughout all of the challenges and setbacks, he produced optimistic, bright, and joyous paintings such as this one.
1918: American enters World War I
1929: Stock market crash leads to the Great Depression. In order to keep his family afloat, Moser begins a 21-year career as Art Supervisor of Cache School District. In that capacity he visited schools in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho, lecturing on art.
1941: Moser is in a near-fatal car accident in Logan, Utah, requiring an 11-month recovery in the hospital until he is discharged when Pearl Harbor is attacked. He uses a cane for the rest of his life.
1944: At 66 years old Moser joins the Navy during World War II, cleaning pipes in Portland, Oregon, for one year.
How does the landscape here celebrate the beauty of life on this earth and express a sense of life-affirming optimism, even in the midst of trials?
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Bear Lake Near Garden City, 1926, oil on canvas on board. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of the family of Dr. and Mrs. Burtis France Robbins.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Bear Lake Looking South from Garden City, 1929, oil on board. Courtesy of the Susan and Mark Callister Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Bear Lake in Springtime, Apple Blossom Time, 1946, oil on board. Gift of Lyman Jensen. Collection of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Utah State University.
From 1929 to 1950, Moser worked as the Art Supervisor for the Cache Valley School district. While traveling in that capacity to River Heights Elementary in 1941, Moser suffered a tragic accident when his car slid into a sixty-foot ravine. He suffered sustained multiple injuries, including punctured lungs, fractured ribs, and a broken hip. After recovering in the hospital for eleven months, he returned to work walking with a cane and wearing a specially crafted shoe on one foot to compensate for the three inches of bone he had lost as a result of the accident and subsequent surgeries. These injuries continued to affect Moser for the remainder of his life, causing pain and certainly frustration when he found himself unable to perform certain tasks that he had previously handled with ease. This painting, produced four years after his release from the hospital, however, is full of hope, an expression of the joyful character that marked his life. Even after a near-fatal catastrophe, Moser continued to convey his gratitude and love for life through his paintbrush.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), White Pine Lake Above Tony’s Grove, 1931, oil on board. Courtesy of the Susan and Mark Callister Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Logan Canyon Near Beaver Mountain, c.1930, oil on canvas board. Susan and Mark Callister Collection.
Moser’s paintings reveal how much the artist loved Utah’s natural beauty—the mountains, the desert, the lakes and streams. His granddaughter, Sharron Brim—who lived with him as a child for a time and who owns many of these paintings—remembers Moser spreading flower seeds out of his car window while driving through Logan Canyon to beautiful the area and share his delight for nature with others. Those flowers continued to grow each spring, even decades after his death—a vibrant reminder of his love of nature.
What can we do to help celebrate and preserve Utah’s natural beauty?
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Murray Canyon from Wellsville Dam, 1930, oil on board. Susan and Mark Callister Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Logan Canyon, Golden Aspens, no date, oil on canvas on board. Sharron Brim Collection.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), Logan Canyon, Near Beaver Dam, 1926, oil on canvas. Sharron Brim Collection.
John Henri Moser died in 1951 of pleurisy and pneumonia in Logan, Utah, at age 75, leaving behind his wife Aldine, two sons, and six daughters. His catalogue comprises nearly 1,200 artworks. Although his paintings are in the collections of museums and private collectors throughout the state of Utah, Moser did not live long enough to see his art exhibited in larger exhibitions, such as this one at the BYU Museum of Art. The last major exhibition of Moser’s work was in 1963 at the Salt Lake Art Center.
Ironically, one of the aspects we now appreciate most about Moser’s paintings is also the very thing that stifled his career during his lifetime—the unrestrained use of pure, brilliant color. Nonetheless, in his determination to stay true to himself as an artist and insist on painting Utah modern, Henri Moser is an example to us in following your dreams, doing what you love, and staying true to your convictions.