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Blue Lakes, Idaho / Thomas Moran


The rich blue-green hues of these lakes on the Snake River must have pleasantly startled Thomas Moran during his visit to Idaho. We can almost imagine him quickly reaching for his watercolors to create this field sketch. Once he achieved the sapphire and turquoise tones he desired for the water, the artist surrounded the lakes with a detailed contour drawing of the bluffs. Moran visited Idaho during the summer of 1900, accompanied by his daughter Ruth Moran. This was one of his first extended trips away from his home on the East Coast after the death of his beloved wife, the artist Mary Nimmo Moran (1842–1899).1 Their itinerary took father and daughter to Colorado, then New Mexico, and June found them in Salt Lake City, Utah, preparing for their journey to Idaho’s Shoshone Falls.2 They were visiting the waterfall on the Snake River at the invitation of Ira Burton Perrine, who owned a ranch at the nearby town of Blue Lakes—the namesake for the hamlet depicted here.3 According to Ruth, the sight of Shoshone Falls was the tonic her father needed in his bereavement, and he spent several days sketching the cataract.4 The artist, his sense of purpose restored, planned to create a painting of “the grandest waterfall he had ever seen.”5 —Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021 _____________________________ 1 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 81. Wilkins notes that Moran may have traveled to Italy before the excursion to the West but cites no source for the information. I have found nothing to support an Italian visit. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountain, 286. 2 The Gilcrease owns a few sketches from the first leg of the trip including Shoshone Falls on the Snake River (02.2339), Rocky Mountains, Cripple Creek Railroad (13.852), and Glen Eyrie, Colorado (13.853). 3 Boag, “Thomas Moran and Western Landscapes,” 61–62. Ironically, Perrine’s vision of the arid region as an agricultural paradise led to the diminishment of the falls. Perrine arrived in Idaho in 1884 and established a ranch and orchard using an irrigation system that relied on the Snake River as a source. He envisioned transforming the entire region with dams to divert water from the river and irrigate over two hundred thousand acres. Although Perrine found investors for the project, lawsuits filed by local landowners who wanted to maintain the integrity of Shoshone Falls, which is on the Snake River, thwarted him. In 1902, however, the National Reclamation Act provided federal funding for irrigation projects in the West, which opened the door for development. Perrine saw his ideas become reality. Completed in 1905, the hydroelectric dam above Shoshone Falls diverted so much water for irrigation that the falls essentially dried up. Today, a periodic release of water, known as “scenic flow,” provides some water for the falls. See also Joni Kinsey’s “Shoshone Falls,” 18. 4 The Gilcrease collection includes a field sketch, Shoshone Falls (13.851). The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum owns Moran’s other drawings of the falls. The Gilcrease also owns one other sketch of the area, Blue Lakes, Snake River (13.665). 5 Morning Press (Santa Barbara, CA), December 4, 1921, quoted in Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountain, 287, 377n118.

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Blue Lakes, Idaho
Thomas Moran (Author)
Hudson River School
watercolor and graphite on paper
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of the Thomas Gilcrease Foundation, 1974
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1974; 0237.1578; 25810
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.Moran." in lower left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Artist's color notations and reference notes are present in sketch; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Dead Willow" in lower center on recto; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Blue Lakes, Idaho 1900" in lower left on recto; Inscribed by hand in ink, "12." in lower left on recto; Inscribed by hand in blue pencil, "WCA 1125" in lower left on verso.
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