A Spiritual Vision
This page lets you go deeper into the exhibition by presenting the artworks with thoughtful questions, additional historical and art historical information, and interesting comparisons.
All supplementary material for the “A Spiritual Vision” section of John Henri Moser: Painting Utah Modern is on this page. Scroll to find the image and content you’re looking for.
Just before returning home to Utah, Moser predicted a difficult path ahead.
“When I come home people will not understand my work…. It takes years for people to open their eyes and look.”
Let’s accept Moser’s challenge now and open our eyes to look! As you look closely at these six paintings featured above, notice how they differ from the artist’s early works.
From 1915 to 1917, Moser teaches art at Branch Agricultural College in Cedar City, Southern Utah.
While in Paris, Moser had befriended influential modern artists, including Pablo Picasso and possibly Henri Matisse. And although he never wrote about it in his letters, he was clearly impacted by Fauvism—a short-lived early 20th century modernist style developed in Paris by Henri Matisse.
Less interested in a realistic depiction of nature in favor of an expressionistic one, Fauves (including Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Raoul Dufy, George Braque) applied fully saturated colors using bold, choppy brushstrokes. Critics were in shock. At the inaugural 1905 exhibition, critics dismissed Fauvist art as “violent,” “crude,” and “decadent.”
Southern Utah is the place where Moser first fully realized the potential of Fauvist-inspired color.
Take a moment to observe these two Fauvist artworks and find similarities with Moser’s landscapes:
Andre Derain, Landscape at Collioure, oil on canvas, 1905.
Henri Matisse, Woman with Hat, oil on canvas, 1905.
John Henri Moser (1876-1951), The Edwin Bridge, 1917, oil on canvas. Utah Division of Arts and Museums Fine Arts Collection.
Edwin Bridge (now known as Owachomo Bridge—Hopi for “Rock Mound”) is the oldest, smallest, and thinnest of three rock arches in Natural Bridges National Monument, located in the remote Southeast corner of Utah. It spans 180 feet, measuring a mere 9 feet in the thinnest spot. To see this bridge, Moser had to travel 340 miles in his Ford Model-T. At an average speed of 35 miles per hour, this journey would have taken him at least 10 hours. On top of that, he then would have hiked for hours to reach the site.
What do we learn about Moser from this story?
Surely there were impressive subjects closer to his home, suggesting that Moser was adventurous, intrepid, and relentless in trying to find the best subjects. It also suggests that he was always prepared to sketch and paint while on the road.
This painting won first place at the prestigious Utah State Fair Art Competition in 1917. It was consequently purchased by the State of Utah and has been on display in the Utah State Capitol Building for many years.
Although the subject of this painting appears static and stable, this painting is full of energy and tension.
How has Moser achieved this?
Have you visited Southern Utah? What colors do you typically see there? What are the two main colors that Moser has used in the painting of Edwin Bridge? Orange and blue are complimentary colors, so the composition feels balanced yet energetic.
Sketch the lines you see on a piece of paper. Describe them! They might include round arch, sloping horizon, diagonal clouds, and squiggly rock cracks. There are no straight lines anywhere in this painting! The tension and energy generated by the variety of diagonal lines reveal the erosive forces of weather and hints at the amount of time it took nature to shape this remarkable formation.
3. The Rule of Thirds
Moser has emphasized the grandeur and sheer size of this impressive geological formation with clever use of “The Rule of Thirds.” This has the effect of emphasizing the expansive sky and the curved inside line of the arch, as well as the enormous size of the arch itself. The man and donkey on the upper left side also help emphasize the scale.