A Distant View of the Falls of Niagara

John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)
Date: 1802-1803
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 23 1/2 H x 39 1/4 W
Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase
Accession Number: 1945.83
Comments: Among all the great scenic wonders of the New World, one was uppermost in the minds of nineteenth-century Americans: Niagara Falls. First visited by European explorers in the late seventeenth century, the two great cataracts (today known as the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls) had, by the early nineteenth century, come to symbolize for many Americans the power and vitality of their new nation. At that time, citizens of the New World were eager to prove their equality with the Old World in all things, and Niagara was judged at least as good as any of Europe's spectacular scenery. When the painter first visited the falls, he was so overcome by the sight and sound of the spectacle that it was two days before he could bring himself to begin sketching. John Vanderlyn, one of the leading American painters of his time, was the first professionally trained artist to visit Niagara to produce finished paintings. His accurate view of the falls gives viewers a sense of both the great expanse of the scene and the immense power of the cascading water.