The Valley in the Sea
The Valley in the Sea

The Valley in the Sea

Edward Moran (American, 1829-1901)

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This canvas is perhaps the only panoramic underwater scene in 19th-century American art, and it is the aquatic equivalent of a Hudson River School landscape.

Moran may have been inspired by underwater exploration related to the laying of the first successful telegraph cable in 1858.

Edward Moran’s Seascapes: Taxonomy and Imagination

Born in England, Edward Moran immigrated to Maryland in 1844, where his father was a hand loom weaver. One of twelve children, Moran left home to work in a cotton factory in Philadelphia, where he also drew large sketches. He and his brother Thomas studied and shared a studio in Philadelphia before returning to England to continue their artistic training. Edward Moran is best known for his marine paintings. His style was influenced by J. M. W. Turner’s seascapes and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch painting. Although his brother Thomas Moran is the more famous of the two artists, Edward Moran was unequalled during his time as a marine painter.

The Valley in the Sea is the first and perhaps only panoramic underwater view in nineteenth-century American art. It is most likely that Dr. James M. Sommerville, the original owner of Valley in the Sea, commissioned Edward Moran to create this painting, which was executed in Philadelphia. In 1859, Sommerville published Ocean Life, which included illustrations of seventy-five different species of aquatic life. In 1860, Matthew Fontaine Maury published The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology, the first textbook on modern oceanography. There is a marked similarity between some of Maury’s descriptions and Moran’s paintings. A 1971 letter from Jacques Cousteau stated, “Ed Moran’s painting … is a work of imagination, based on serious documentation.”

Thomas, Tom. Marine Paintings: Edward Moran-Master Painter. CreateSpace, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-1442116719

Sommerville, James M. Ocean Life. Stockholm: Tryckt hos A. L. Norman, reprinted 2009.

Dr. J.M. Sommerville, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1862.{1} (Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., New York, New York) 1970;{2} purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1970.

{1} 39th Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, 1862, no. 123, as "A Valley in the Sea off the Coast of Great Britain." Dr. J.M. Sommerville is listed as the painting's proprietor.
{2} Recent Discoveries in American Painting, Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., New York, 21 April to 9 May 1970, no. 20.

Object Information

Edward Moran (American, 1829-1901)
creation date
oil on canvas
40-1/2 x 64 in.
49-1/4 x 73-1/4 x 4-1/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed in red paint at lower left: E. Moran 1862
Inscribed at verso, lower left: The Valley in The Sea | E. Moran
Inscribed at verso, lower right: Philadelphia | 1862
accession number
credit line
Martha Delzell Memorial Fund
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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