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  • Thomas Moran
    Feb 12, 1837 - Aug 25, 1926
  • Cascade Falls, Yosemite - Thomas Moran from Bolton, England was an American painter and printmaker of the Hudson River School in New York whose work often featured the Rocky Mountains. Moran and his family took residence in New York where he obtained work as an artist. He was a younger brother of the noted marine artist Edward Moran, with whom he shared a studio. A talented illustrator and exquisite colorist, Thomas Moran was hired as an illustrator at Scribner's Monthly.
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Cascade Falls, Yosemite
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  • Cascade Falls, Yosemite

  • Thomas Moran
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  • 1905
    Oil on board
    Private collection.

    Cascade Falls depicts one of the waterfalls that fascinated Moran during his visit to the Yosemite Valley in the summer of 1904. He made the trip with his daughter and as they explored the area together on horseback, he made many sketches of the stunning scenery he discovered there.

    In this image, the waterfall cascades down a rock face creating a gentle mist that permeates the scene. In the valley below, lush greenery is mostly shaded by the surrounding cliffs, suggesting that this is a hidden and secluded spot. The piece evokes both a feeling of drama and a sense of peace. The water in the background is rushing and roaring while the pool at the bottom is quiet and calm. The jagged, angular rocks at the top of the waterfall give way at the bottom to more rounded stones, worn smooth by time.

    Working in oil on canvas, the artist achieves this dichotomy by using soft, expressive brush strokes to represent the rushing water, and fine, delicate detail on the tree in the forground. This draws the viewer's eye to the centre of the scene where the frenzied movement of water meets the stillness below. His use of light and shadow also serve to focus attention to the base of the waterfall, where a gleaming white cloud of spray obscures the vibrant aquamarine below. This skilled layering of colour creates a richness that conveys the depth and coolness of the water.

    Ominous black clouds hang heavily in the sky above, and at first it is difficult to tell where the mist around the waterfall ends and where the clouds in the sky begin. The power of this painting lies in its portrayal of water in many forms. Moran reveals a torrent capable of wearing down rock, a clear pool, and a soft mist which drifts back to the sky and prepares to fall again, thus repeating the cycle.

    Thomas Moran is associated with a group of painters known as the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters, including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill and William Keith. Like Moran, these artists shared a love of the American Western landscape and were inspired by scenes of natural beauty. Bierstadt in particular is famous for his paintings of the Yosemite Valley, which he first started producing in 1863.

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Other paintings by Thomas Moran:

Sunset at Sea
Sunset at Sea
Approaching Storm
Approaching Storm
In the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming
In the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming
The Angry Sea
The Angry Sea
Thomas MoranThomas Moran was born in 1837 in Bolton, Lancashire to two handloom weavers. The rapid industrialization of nineteenth century England soon mechanized the weaving process and forced Thomas Moran’s parents out of their jobs, at which point the whole family was moved to Kensington, Philadelphia, just outside of Philadelphia.

At the age of sixteen, Thomas Moran became an apprentice to a Philadelphia wood engraving firm, Scattergood & Telfer. It was in this position that he began to paint and draw seriously, working diligently on his skills as both a watercolorist and an illustrator. In this he had help and support from his brother Edward, who was an associate of the marine painter James Hamilton.

In the early 1860s, Thomas Moran traveled to Lake Superior, where he painted and sketched the landscape of the Great Lakes. Back in Philadelphia he sold lithographs of the Great Lakes before setting off on another trip, this time to London, to see the works of the famed British landscape and marine painter JMW Turner. Thomas Moran replications of JMW Turner’s work so impressed the director of the National Gallery that he was given a private room to work in. Upon returning to the U.S., Moran wanted to go west again and paint but had to wait for the right opportunity.

That opportunity came in the form of Ferdinand V. Hayden’s 1871 Geological Survey Expedition to what is now Yellowstone National Park. Thomas Moran was hired, along with photographer William Henry Jackson, to document the landscape of the region. He could not have chosen a better trip or companion, as the combined talents of Moran and Jackson in documenting the geysers, hot springs, canyons and cliffs of the “Yellow Stone Territory” would be instrumental in persuading Congress to set the land aside as a National Park. It was also the beginning of a fruitful partnership, as Thomas Moran would accompany Jackson again on Major John Wesley Powell’s expedition to the west in 1873.

It was on this trip that Thomas Moran painted his two most famous works, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” and “The Chasm of the Colorado,” both of which were purchased (for a previously unheard-of sum of $10,000 each) by Congress to be displayed in the Capitol in Washington. With the money he was earning from his newfound fame, Thomas Moran again traveled to Europe, this time to Venice, where he purchased a gondola and shipped it back to the United States in order to use it as a model for a variety of Venice scenes he produced after 1890.

Thomas Moran moved west permanently in his old age, settling in Santa Barbara, CA and traveling to Acoma and Laguna pueblos to paint the scenery and lifestyle of the native peoples. He died in 1926 of natural causes.