In 1871 the magazine asked Moran to illustrate articles on “The Wonders of Yellowstone” from the descriptions and amateur sketches of Nathaniel P. Langford. Langford was a politician in Territorial Montana who had the idea of publicizing the Yellowstone country in the interest of making it the first national park.
The Scribner’s illustrations led to an invitation from Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden for Moran to join his expedition to Yellowstone that year. The Northern Pacific Railroad had requested the invitation for Moran. They wanted him to produce a dozen paintings that might be used in future advertisements to entice people to Yellowstone, should the railroad extend a line there. They gave Moran $500 and a train ticket so that he could meet up with Hayden.
The expedition came through southeastern Idaho. Moran produced two watercolor sketches in Idaho while on the expedition, one of Portneuf Canyon and the other titled W. Springs C., which seems to have been painted near Lava Hot Springs. He also made a stop at my great grandparents’ home along the Blackfoot River, which I wrote about in an earlier post.
His Yellowstone paintings were instrumental in convincing Congress to create the country’s first national park in 1872. Congress purchased one of his paintings, The Grand Canon of the Yellowstone for $10,000. Hayden named one of the mountains in the Teton Range Mount Moran in honor of the artist, who had not yet seen it.
But those Idaho sketches weren’t the last Moran would create in Idaho. He returned to the state in 1879, making many sketches of the Teton Range from the Idaho side. According to the National Park Service, his painting The Great Teton Range, Idaho now hangs in the Oval Office in the White House, facing the president. It appeared in print for the first time in 1881 in Harpers Weekly.
Moran brought back some sketches of the Snake River, Taylor Bridge, and Fort Hall from his 1879 trip. In general he found little else to sketch that interested him.
But there was one more Idaho feature that brought him back to the state in 1900: Shoshone Falls. He had painted the falls a couple of times in earlier years from the sketches and photographs of others.
Moran and his daughter, Ruth, were guests of Ira B. Perrine whose ranch was in the canyon a few miles below the falls, and for whom Perrine bridge is named.
That his wife had recently died of typhoid fever might partially explain the foreboding darkness of what many consider his masterpiece. The enormous painting (below), six by eleven feet, features brooding clouds clinging close to the horizon. It is titled Shoshone falls on the Snake River, Idaho.
After Moran’s death in 1926, his daughter offered the painting to the State of Idaho for $15,000, then reduced the price to $10,000. The Legislature did not come up with the money and no philanthropist stepped forward. A shame, that.
Today the painting is owned by the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Much of the information for this post was taken from an article titled “Thomas Moran in Idaho, 1871-1900,” by Peter Boag, which appeared in the Fall 1998 Idaho Yesterdays magazine.