Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Jacksonville, Florida



Ponce de Leon in Florida


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Thomas Moran, Ponce de Leon in Florida, 1877-78, oil on canvas, 63 x 115 inches


The Artist in Florida

Thomas Moran's monumental history painting Ponce de Leon in Florida was inspired by the dense forests surrounding north Florida's St. Johns River. An internationally acclaimed landscape artist, Moran was noted for his depictions of the American West. In the 1870s, Florida was one of America's last remaining wildernesses, and the semi-tropical landscape was of considerable interest to naturalists and artists.

While visiting Ft. George Island in 1877 to complete illustrations for a Scribner's Magazine article, Moran made a number of field sketches that he later used as the basis for about twenty oil paintings. Moran began Ponce de Leon in Florida in his Newark, New Jersey, studio shortly after his return from Florida, and completed it in early 1878.

Juan Ponce de Leon, First European to set foot in Florida

The aging Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon (c. 1474-1521) was aroused by tales of riches and a "fountain of youth" that could be found on the island of Bimini, somewhere north of the Bahamas. He obtained a contract from King Ferdinand of Spain to explore and settle the island. In 1513, he left Puerto Rico and sailed up the unchartered coast of eastern Florida. On April 2, Ponce de Leon went ashore in an area probably near St. Augustine. Because these events occured during the Easter season (in Spanish Pascua Florida, "flowery Easter"), and flowers were abundant, he named the land La Florida. In contrast to Moran's peaceful depiction, Ponce de Leon was constantly harried by native Floridians during his exploration of Florida, and died as a result of an arrow wound.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 8/24/10

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