Born in England on March 4, 1841, Peter Moran and his family sought a better economic life in America, settling in Philadelphia in 1844. After graduating from the Harrison Grammar School in 1857, Peter entered into an apprenticeship with a local lithographic firm. He also tried his hand at glass painting in 1860-61, though no prints in this medium from the artist have been identified.
Lacking formal training, Peter studied under his brothers for the next several years, supporting himself through the sale of his paintings. The family boasted membership to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with both Thomas and Edward as full Academicians. While never receiving status of full Academician, Peter was elected into the group as an Associate in 1863. In addition to the influence of his brothers, Peter studied the work of three French artists, which directed his interest towards animals and their natural landscapes: Constant Troyon (1810-1865), Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), and Emile van Marcke (1827-1890).
In 1874, the artist took up etching, a field that garnered little attention in the nation at that time. It is likely Peter gained an interest in the medium after exposure to a major print exhibition sponsored by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that same year, which featured the largest public display of metal-plate prints up to that point in American history. Likewise, seriously committed to etching by 1878, the artist may have been influenced by his wife, Emily, a practicing etcher, and his studio partner, Stephen James Ferris, who may have provided Peter with some technical guidance.
The American 1876 centennial proved momentous for Peter Moran’s artistic recognition. The artist submitted a group of etchings to Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition, where he won a medal commending the artist for his “excellence in design and execution.” Additionally, Moran received an award for one of his oil paintings on display. Peter Moran soon became a recognized name, appearing in both New York and Boston press, with articles highlighting the artist’s reputation for skillful depiction of animals. His works were exhibited throughout the nation, not only in major East Coast cities like his first significant show of etchings at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1877, but in Newark, Pittsburgh, Utica, Louisville, and Chicago.
The summers during 1879-81, in between teaching courses at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Peter traveled west on sketching trips. He accompanied his brother Thomas on his first summer trip in 1879. Sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad, the pair visited northeast California and the territories of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. Although they sometimes encountered Native Americans, it wasn’t until Peter’s later travels west that the artist made sketches of the tribes and villages he experienced, dedicating much of his work to scenes and people of the Zuni Pueblo of New Mexico. Later, in 1890, Peter Moran served as a Special Agent for the Eleventh Census of the United States, documenting the conditions of the Shoshone Indians on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Throughout his career, Peter Moran worked to elevate and establish an appreciation for the fine art of etching. In 1880, he helped found the Philadelphia Society of Etchers, through which many exhibitions were organized and sponsored. Through the support of New York print publisher and dealer Frederick Keppel, Moran had a one-man show in 1887. Comprised of 104 of his etched prints, the show established his reputation as one of the leading American painter-etchers of farm life and grazing cattle, during a time when images of cows resonated with an American audience who recognized that the traditional way of life these domestic cattle signified was rapidly vanishing. By the time of his death on November 9, 1914, after an extended illness, Peter Moran was a well-loved figure in Philadelphia art circles.