Harry Humphrey Moore led a cosmopolitan lifestyle, dividing his time between Europe, New York City, and California. This globe-trotting painter was also active in Morocco, and most importantly, he was among the first generation of American artists to live and work in Japan, where he depicted temples, tombs, gardens, merchants, children, and Geisha girls. Praised by fellow painters such as Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, and Jean-Léon Gérôme, Moore’s fame was attributed to his exotic subject matter and the brilliant palette and delicate brushwork that characterized his work.
Born in New York City, Moore was the son of Captain George Humphrey, an affluent shipbuilder, and a descendant of the English painter, Ozias Humphrey (1742–1810). He became deaf at age three, and later went to special schools where he learned lip-reading and sign language. After developing an interest in art as a young boy, Moore studied painting with the portraitist Samuel Waugh in Philadelphia, where he met and became friendly with Eakins. He also received instruction from the painter Louis Bail in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1864, Moore attended classes at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco, and until 1907, he would visit the “City by the Bay” regularly.
In 1865, Moore went to Europe, spending time in Munich before traveling to Paris, where, in October 1866, he resumed his formal training in Gérôme’s atelier, drawing inspiration from his teacher’s emphasis on authentic detail and his taste for picturesque genre subjects. There, Moore worked alongside Eakins, who had mastered sign language in order to communicate with his friend. In March 1867, Moore enrolled at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, honing his drawing skills under the tutelage of Adolphe Yvon, among other leading French painters.
In December 1869, Moore traveled around Spain with Eakins and the Philadelphia engraver, William Sartain. In 1870, he went to Madrid, where he met the Spanish painters Mariano Fortuny and Martin Rico y Ortega. When Eakins and Sartain returned to Paris, Moore remained in Spain, painting depictions of Moorish life in cities such as Segovia and Granada and fraternizing with upper-crust society. In 1872, he married Isabella de Cistue, the well-connected daughter of Colonel Cistue of Saragossa, who was related to the Queen of Spain. For the next two-and-a-half years, the couple lived in Morocco, where Moore painted portraits, interiors, and streetscapes, often accompanied by an armed guard (courtesy of the Grand Sharif) when painting outdoors. In 1873, he went to Rome, spending two years studying with Fortuny, whose lively technique, bright palette, and penchant for small-format genre scenes made a lasting impression on him.
In 1874, Moore settled in New York City, maintaining a studio on East14th Street, where he would remain until 1880. During these years, he participated intermittently in the annuals of the National Academy of Design in New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, exhibiting Moorish subjects and views of Spain. A well-known figure in Bay Area art circles, Moore had a one-man show at the Snow & May Gallery in San Francisco in 1877, and a solo exhibition at the Bohemian Club, also in San Francisco, in 1880. Indeed, Moore fraternized with many members of the city’s cultural elite, including Katherine Birdsall Johnson (1834–1893), a philanthropist and art collector who owned The Captive (current location unknown), one of his Orientalist subjects. According to one contemporary account, Johnson invited Moore and his wife to accompany her on a trip to Japan in 1880 and they readily accepted.
Later in his career, Moore spent most of his time painting portraits of children and members of the European aristocracy, as well as likenesses of wealthy Americans, including the mother of William Randolph Hearst. He continued to reside in the United States until shortly after World War I, exhibiting his scenes of Japan at the Union League Club (1919) and the Architectural League of New York (1920).