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The Niagara River from Brock Monument / Thomas Moran


In the sketch The Niagara River from Brock Monument, our focus is on the river, waterfall, and clouds because Thomas Moran has used white gouache to highlight those features.1 His application of gouache varies—heavier in the river, lighter in the cascade—so the water is like a solid ribbon that vaporizes into mist. For the sky, a thick application of sparkling white creates the towering tops of the clouds as they build over the darker wash used for the gathering storm, reinforcing the idea of the powerful, transformative forces at work below in the falls.

When Moran visited Niagara Falls in 1881, he would have found it surrounded by factories, tourist venues, and gift shops. The waterfall attracted fifty thousand to sixty thousand tourists every year by the 1850s. There were no regulations to curtail development, so entrepreneurs flocked to the area to invest in tourism and, for those with enough capital, industry as well. Thus, both lumber mills and tacky souvenir stores sprang up within sight of the falls.2 One would not know this from the many sketches, etchings, wood engravings, and oil paintings that Moran and other artists of his generation created of the famous cataract.3 If you look closely at this sketch, however, the touches of white gouache on the right may suggest the commercial enterprises that crowded the banks.4

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

1 Dedicated to Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, a Canadian hero of the War of 1812, Brock Monument is in Canada. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 202.
2 Davidson, “Landscape Icons, Tourism, and Land Development in the Northeast,” 3–8, 19–21. Formed in 1883, the Niagara Falls Association attempted to regulate commercial development and in 1885, New York State bought one hundred acres along the Niagara River for a park.
3 George Inness’s inclusion of a factory smokestack in one of his portrayals, Niagara (1889, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1909.7.31), is an exception. During the nineteenth century, the best-known depiction of the falls in a pristine state was Frederic Edwin Church’s Niagara (1875, National Gallery of Art, 2014.79.10).
4 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 202–5. Moran visited Niagara Falls to fulfill a commission for the book Picturesque Canada (1882). The Gilcrease collection includes the wood engravings Niagara (15.434),The Rapids above Niagara (15.402), and The Rapids below Lower Suspension Bridge, Niagara (15.430); the etching Niagara — From the Canadian Side (14.422); and the sketches Rapids below Lower Suspension Bridge, Niagara (02.901) and Under the American Fall from Goat Island (02.899).

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The Niagara River from Brock Monument
Thomas Moran (Artist)
June 30, 1881
Hudson River School
graphite and wash with white gouache on paper
Landscape; single-sided 0.177- 0.182 mm Machine-made, wove, smooth surface, warm brown in color (originally neutral taupe which is visible along the bottom edge). The media is located on the felt side of the support; wire side on the verso.
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
0226.900; 23144
Not On View

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