My grandfather, Dr. George LeRoy Rees, collected paintings by Utah artists. One of his favorites was a fellow resident of Cache County, Loganite John Henri Moser (or as he signed his work . . . Henri Moser). Grandfather purchased (or was given) at least two oils and two pastels. One of the oils is now displayed in my mother’s home and the other belongs to my aunt. I inherited the two pastels; I suspect they are studies for subsequent oil paintings. Both pastels are very colorful. One hangs proudly in my home, and the second soon will.
The Springville Museum of Art has five works by Henri Moser. On a recent visit, I noticed that a Moser landscape was prominently displayed in one of the museum’s main galleries.
In Switzerland, the Moser family joined the LDS Church, and in 1888 immigrated to Utah. Henri was 12 at the time. The family settled in Payson, and their son eventually enrolled at Utah State Agriculture College (USAC) in Logan. While his initially major was engineering, he soon gravitated to fine art.
In 1908, using a loan from USAC president John A. Widtsoe, Moser traveled to Paris where he was exposed to a variety of artistic styles, including fauvism (named for the french word fauve which means “wild beast”). Fauvism was a short-lived movement that emphasized the use of brilliant color, sometimes applied straight from the tube. Fauvist works were frequently characterized as “explosions on canvas.”
During his stay in Paris, Moser became acquainted with Pablo Picasso. Henri later said of Pablo: “I know him well, he painted beautiful things then. Today he paints to advertise himself and laughs at the credulous public. He has wonderful talent and ability.”
Returning to Utah in 1911, Henri developed his own unique style, a combination of impressionism and fauvism. A style, because of its bold use of color, that was somewhat shocking when compared to the subdued colors used by fellow Utah artists.
Moser eventually settled in Logan, near the college/university, and was a prolific artist. One of his more interesting projects was a mural he painted twice for the Logan 9th Ward (where he attended church). The first iteration of the 5′ x 14′ work memorialized the epic Mormon trek across the plains to Utah. Included in the mural was a prominent image of a Native American guide clothed only in a loin cloth. Eventually, the original mural was redone by Moser; the new version had landscapes of three sites important to Mormon history.
The reason for the “new” mural is a cause for some historical controversy. Officially, it was decided that the original large painting was too much of a distraction, as it was located in the lobby of the Ward house. But privately, Moser was told that it was because of the scantily clad Native American guide.
The artistic work of Henri Moser, who died in 1954, is a Utah treasure. The spectacular color in his landscapes is graphically displayed on a website sponsored by the law firm of Callister, Nebeker, & McCullough. The CNM website refers to Moser as Utah’s “wild beast”; I assume that’s of term of endearment.