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Tower Fall / Thomas Moran


“Just below our camp the creek makes a semicircular turn and flowing in a succession of cascades for a short distance suddenly dashes over the edge of the precipice and falls one hundred and fifty-six feet to the bottom of the canyon. . . . The rocks, from the action of the weather and the water, have been eroded, so as to leave high towers standing along the banks. . . . as though stationed there to guard it.”1 —Albert Charles Peale, 1871

Albert Charles Peale was the geologist who accompanied Ferdinand Hayden’s 1871 survey of the Yellowstone region, and his description of Tower Fall focuses on the environmental forces that shaped this astonishing landscape. Thomas Moran’s watercolor of the towering guardians of the falls makes visible the same geological processes. Dark storm clouds gather overhead, ready to unleash torrents of rain upon the rocky cliffs. The rainfall will be channeled downward into the waterfall and creek, which will further erode and alter the rocky terrain. Moran’s palette of somber grays, browns, and blacks is highlighted by the deep, rich green of the pine trees, conifers that are evergreen, holding the promise that life will continue despite any further transformations in the landscape at Tower Fall.2

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

1 Peale quoted in Merrill, Seeing Yellowstone in 1871, 31. Peale wrote a series of letters about the survey for his hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Press. Peale’s paternal great-grandfather was Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), a Philadelphia artist, soldier, politician, naturalist, inventor, and proprietor of one of the first museums in the United States.
2 Moran was a guest artist on Hayden’s 1871 expedition to Yellowstone, which was the artist’s first trip to the West. Tower Fall is one of sixteen watercolors commissioned by a wealthy railroad investor, William Blackmore of England, who traveled to Yellowstone with his wife, Mary. She died on the trip, and it is sometimes reported the watercolors were created in her memory. See Hamber, Collecting the West, 151–52. See also Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, 154.

Curatorial Remarks

Blackmore Set, no. 8. Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research 2.23.22

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Tower Fall
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Hudson River School
watercolor, white gouache, and graphite on paper
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1955
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
0226.1457; 15332
Not On View

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