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Feb 22nd
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Home People & Lifestyle Western Art One of the West’s Most Important Paintings, “Mountain of the Holy Cross,” Returns to Autry National Center

One of the West’s Most Important Paintings, “Mountain of the Holy Cross,” Returns to Autry National Center

Jackie Autry shares the backstory of how the painting, centerpiece for the Autry National Center’s Romance Gallery, came to Los Angeles

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One of the West's most important paintings, Thomas Moran's Mountain of the Holy Cross, has returned to the Autry National Center in Los Angeles where after a year of travels with two separate exhibitions it again serves as the centerpiece for the museum's art collection.

"It absolutely embodies cultural thinking about the West at the time of its creation: that the West was monumental and grand, the natural destination of the American people as the heirs of the New World," said Amy Scott, the Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator of Visual Arts at the Autry National Center.

Moran's painting was gifted in 1991 to the Autry National Center's collection by Mr. and Mrs. Gene Autry, but how it ended up in Los Angeles is one of Western art's intriguing backstories.

OldWestNewWest.com Travel & History Magazine asked Jackie Autry, Gene's widow and herself one of the cofounders of the Autry National Center, to share with you the history. Here's the backstory, in her own words:

"Many years ago, Gene was President of the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He later became Chairman of the Board. During that time he met many affluent people who not only supported the Hall financially, but also enjoyed or contributed major works of art to the Hall. During Gene's tenure, he and Jasper Ackerman were dear friends. Jasper not only was responsible for getting the U.S. Air Force Academy to locate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but he also was responsible for starting and putting on the Pike's Peak Or Bust Rodeo. That was Gene's first encounter with Ackerman, as Gene was a yearly participant in the rodeo.

"During Gene's tenure, Ackerman loaned what is considered to be Thomas Moran's best painting entitled Mountain of the Holy Cross to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. It was going to be donated to the Hall upon his death. But as life goes, a rift between the Hall's executive director, and some of the board members, developed, causing Ackerman to remove the painting from the Hall when he was unable to resolve the issues.

"Ackerman then placed the painting in a small local art museum in Colorado Springs. Gene loved that painting and felt it would have a profound impact if the newly constructed (then under construction) Gene Autry Museum (now the Autry National Center) was to use it as centerpiece of what the museum would represent.

"Gene, Jackie (Autry), Joanne Hale (executive director and president) and Monte Hale flew to Colorado to see Jasper Ackerman to try and convince him that having the painting on display in a major museum in Los Angeles would give it the best exposure. Jasper was eventually convinced that the painting indeed belonged where millions of people could see it, rather than a few."

Born in England in 1837, Moran is considered to be the premier painter of two of the nation's iconic Western landscapes - the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

Finished in 1875 following the artist's third trip West, Mountain of the Holy Cross was widely exhibited in the East before coming to rest in the collection of an English physician and railroad developer, who installed it in his home near the developing resort town of Manitou, Colorado.

There the painting - like the legendary site it depicts - lured tourists and travelers drawn by the notion of the Western landscape as a divine creation and the American people as a chosen nation.

Mountain of the Holy Cross was reinstalled in the Autry's Romance Gallery on Feb. 22, 2010.

Moran died in Santa Barbara, California on Aug. 26, 1926 at the age of 89.

About the Autry National Center

The Autry National Center is an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West. Located in Griffith Park, the Autry includes the collections of the Museum of the American West, the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, and the Autry Institute's two research libraries: the Braun Research Library and the Autry Library.

Weekday hours of operation for the Autry National Center's museum at its Griffith Park location are Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

For more information, visit the Autry National Center Web site at

People & Lifestyle