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The Giantess / Thomas Moran


“Standing near the fountain when in motion, and the sun shining, the scene is grandly magnificent; each of the broken atoms of water shining like so many brilliants, while myriads of rainbows are dancing attendance. No wonder, then, that our usually staid and sober companions threw up their hats and shouted with ecstasy at the sight.”1
—General Henry D. Washburn on “The Giantess"

Thomas Moran depicted the marvels of Yellowstone in images such as The Giantess a year before he visited the area. Moran based these images in part on written accounts by people such as General Washburn, who led an expedition to the region in the summer of 1870. Although reports of Yellowstone’s wonders had circulated among Anglo-Americans for decades, the public had largely dismissed them as tall tales. The immediacy of the general’s dispatches, however, which were published in the Helena Daily Herald shortly after the expedition, struck a chord of plausibility.2

Accompanying Washburn on the trip was Nathaniel P. Langford, whose two-part article “The Wonders of Yellowstone” appeared in the May and June 1871 issues of Scribner’s Monthly.3 Langford’s articles were to include illustrations based on sketches by Private Charles Moore, one of the expedition’s military escorts, and drawings by journalist Walter Trumbull, who was also a member of the group. Scribner’s art director, however, thought the drawings too crude, and managing editor Richard Watson Gilder suggested Moran for the project.4 Gilder and Moran had known each other since their childhood in Philadelphia and remained close friends even after Gilder moved to Newark, New Jersey, to be closer to the publishing world in New York City.5 Moran received the commission, and he based the fourteen images6 he prepared for the illustrations on the written accounts of the Washburn expedition as well as the sketches of Moore and Trumbull. Although Langford’s articles received mixed reviews, Moran was fascinated by the assignment and resolved to see Yellowstone in person. Indeed, in late 1871, he became a last-minute addition to geologist Ferdinand Hayden’s expedition to the region.7

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

1 Henry D. Washburn in the Helena Daily Herald, September 27, 1870, quoted in Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone, 55n7.
2 Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone, 52.
3 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 78.
4 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 78–79.
5 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 76–77; and Anderson et al., Thomas Moran, 52. By October 1871, after his trip west with the Hayden expedition, Moran had moved to Newark, New Jersey, to be closer to Gilder as well as the publishing and art worlds of New York City.
6 The fourteen images Moran created are in Gilcrease.
7 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 79–81.

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The Giantess; The Giantess (250 Ft. High), Montana. 1870
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Hudson River School
watercolor and graphite with white gouache on paper
Portrait; single-sided Primary support is adhered to secondary; secondary: 1.468-1.488 mm The primary support is grey, wove. The media is located on the wire side of paper. Adhered to a thick cream, layered millboard.
Object Type: 
Credit Line: 
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Barry L. Glaser
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
1983; 0226.1691; 38735
Not On View

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