Thomas Moran - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - 1872

oil on canvas mounted on aluminium, 213 × 266.3 cm (83.9 × 104.8 in)

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., United States

Thomas Moran’s vision of the Western landscape was critical to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. In 1871 Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, director of the United States Geological Survey, invited Moran, at the request of American financier Jay Cooke, to join Hayden and his expedition team into the unknown Yellowstone region. Hayden was just about to embark on his arduous journey when he received a letter from Cooke presenting Moran as “an artist of Philadelphia of rare genius”. Funded by Cooke (the director of the Northern Pacific Railroad), and Scribner’s Monthly, a new illustrated magazine, Moran agreed to join the survey team of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 in their exploration of the Yellowstone region. During forty days in the wilderness area, Moran visually documented over 30 different sites and produced a diary of the expedition’s progress and daily activities. His sketches, along with photographs produced by survey member William Henry Jackson, captured the nation’s attention and helped inspire Congress to establish the Yellowstone region as the first national park in 1872. Moran’s paintings along with Jackson’s photographs revealed the scale and splendor of the beautiful Yellowstone region more than written or oral descriptions, persuading President Grant and the US Congress that Yellowstone was to be preserved. Moran’s impact on Yellowstone was great, but Yellowstone had a significant influence on the artist, too. His first national recognition as an artist, as well as his first large financial success resulted from his connection with Yellowstone. He even adopted a new signature: T-Y-M, Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. Just one year after his introduction to the area, Moran captured the imagination of the American public with his first enormous painting of a far-western natural wonder, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which the government purchased in 1872 for $10,000. For the next two decades, he published his work in various periodicals and created hundreds of large paintings. Several of these, including two versions of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1893–1901 and 1872) and Chasm of the Colorado (1873–74) are now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


The Hudson River School was a 19th century American art movement influenced by romanticism, focusing primarily on landscape paintings of the United States. The Hudson River School was named after a series of paintings depicting the Hudson River Valley in the northeastern United States, although the movement gradually spread to other parts of New England and the southern and western United States as well. The Hudson River School students were influenced by European landscape artists such as Claude Lorrain, J.M.W. Turner, and John Constable. These artists were also contemporaries of the transcendentalist literature and philosophy movement in America, a group of writers made famous for their love of nature. 

Valley of the Yosemite, Albert Bierstadt, 1864.

The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, Albert Bierstadt. 1863.

Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire, Thomas Cole. 1827.

Sunny Morning on the Hudson River, Thomas Cole. 1827.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Thomas Moran. 1872.

The Chasm of the Colorado, Thomas Moran. 1874.