Thomas Moran, The Great Cave, Pictured Rocks, Lake Superior, Michigan, 1873
During the 1800s, artists found significant meaning in landscapes like Michigan’s Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior, and would travel to capture their beauty.
Thomas Moran journeyed to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to produce a series of sketches and illustrations on the shore of Lake Superior, and throughout his career would periodically incorporate the Pictured Rocks landscape into his paintings. The distinctive cliffs were layered with meaning for the painter, a result of their beauty and literary associations.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow set his epic Song of Hiawatha – a poem relating the fictional adventures of an Ojibwe warrior named Hiawatha and the tragedy of his love for Minnehaha, a Dakota woman – at the same site, inspiring Moran’s visit and the painting The Great Cave, Pictured Rocks.
In this painting, Moran captures the dramatic cliffs at Pictured Rocks, likening the arch of the cave to a gothic cathedral.
Near the shore, travelers disembark from wooden boats after paddling across the turquoise waters as a rainbow emerges in the mist above. In capturing this stunning and distinctive Michigan landscape, Moran asserts the unique character of the nation through its natural beauty.
The exhibit “Visions of American Life: Paintings from the Manoogian Collection, 1850-1940” is on loan from Detroit Institute of Art from April 5 – May 23.