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The Cummer's "Ponce De Leon in Florida" by Thomas Moran

The Cummer Museum of Art & Science provides another glimpse into this well known painting.

Published October 20, 2012 in Weekend Edition      0 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article



One of the well-known pieces in The Cummer’s permanent collection is the Ponce de León in Florida by Thomas Moran. Moran painted this work to hang in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. It was to accompany his two other monumental western frontier landscapes that hung in the U.S. Senate chamber. This painting of early Florida history depicts the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León (c. 1474–1521) in the company of native Floridians.  

Although Moran was primarily known for his Mid-western landscapes, after visiting Florida in 1872, he became immersed in the Ponce de León lore of the St. Augustine area. Intrigued by the stories of the conquistador’s fruitless search for the Fountain of Youth, Moran chose to focus on the newly popularized subject of Florida. Shortly after returning to New Jersey from Florida, Moran began work on painting the Ponce de León.

Moran was familiar with the western Plains Indians and depicted them in the painting instead of the distinctly different Timucuan people inhabiting Florida at the time. While Moran’s vision of history is romanticized, his depiction of the Florida landscape is more accurate in the rendering of the clearing surrounded by palms, palmettos, and live oaks covered in Spanish moss and indigenous vines.

Thomas Moran was born in 1837 in Bolton, Lancashire to two handloom weavers. The rapid industrialization of nineteenth century England soon mechanized the weaving process and forced Thomas Moran's parents out of their jobs, at which point the whole family moved to Kensington, Philadelphia. At the age of sixteen, Thomas Moran became an apprentice to a Philadelphia wood engraving firm, Scattergood & Telfer. It was in this position that he began to paint and draw seriously, working diligently on his skills as both a watercolorist and an illustrator. Throughout his career, Moran traveled to Europe, as well as, the western frontiers of the United States in the 1870s and 1880s. During these sojourns, he made hundreds of sketches and watercolors, which he turned into illustrations for popular magazines and finished paintings on canvas. A printmaker, illustrator, and painter, Thomas Moran has been recognized as one of America’s leading landscape painters.


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