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Tahoe / Thomas Moran

Essay/Description

When Thomas Moran arrived at Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border in 1879, the area was well on its way to becoming an important site of the region’s leisure industry.1 As art historian Anne Morand has pointed out, although Moran generally avoided any suggestion of human presence in his images of the American West, this watercolor sketch of Tahoe provides ample evidence of a rapidly developing vacation community.2

The artist’s inclusion of the hotels and summer cabins perched above the water suggests comfortable accommodations awaited those who visited. The holidaymakers would be treated to a panoramic view of the lake, where two paddle-wheel steamboats are lined up at the dock ready to take them on pleasure cruises.3 Despite all the evidence of the changes wrought by humanity, the vast stretch of clear sky that presides over the gently rolling hills and the bright crystalline blue of the lake shows that there was still an abundance of nature to be enjoyed by vacationers.

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

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1 This was Moran’s second visit to Lake Tahoe; his first was late in 1872, while on assignment for D. Appleton and Company’s Picturesque America, published in forty-eight parts over two years. Moran completed forty images for Picturesque America, including Lake Tahoe (15.409). The paddle-wheel steamboat depicted in the illustration is indicative of tourism’s arrival in the region as early as the artist’s first visit. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 109–14; and Rainey, Creating “Picturesque America,” 77.
2 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 49–51.
3 Morand, Thomas Moran: The Field Sketches, 51.

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Title(s): 
Tahoe; Tahoe.
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
August 8, 1879
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
watercolor and graphite with white gouache on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
02.886
Previous Number(s): 
0236.886; 25606
Department: 
Signed by hand in pencil, "T.M." in upper left on recto; Signed by hand in pencil, "T.M." in lower left on recto; Signed by hand in pencil, "T.Moran." in lower left on recto; Notes in the artist's hand; Inscribed by hand in pencil, "Tahoe. Aug 8th - 79" in upper left on recto; Inscribed by hand in ink, "No. 329." in upper left on verso.
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