Albert Tissandier: Drawings of Nature and Industry in the United States: 1885

by Mary Francey



Tissandier drawings and accompanying essays - page 3


The Precipices of Marble Canyon

Near Pagump Valley, Arizona

June 11, 1855

Marble Canyon was a side trip from the site of their encampment, but one that was well worth the extra time. Tissandier wrote that it was "one of the most beautiful excursions of the voyage." The extremely arid conditions of the desolate and deep canyons and barren plateaus seemed endless, eliciting a sense of awe effectively communicated in this drawing.


Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

April 10, 1885

Mammoth Hot Springs was a popular destination for travelers and mountain men before Yellowstone was designated a national park. Like several European hot springs, its waters were thought to promote healing. Succumbing to erosion and lack of rain, many of the springs became dry leaving caverns of siliceous rock. One of these dry springs is the subject of this drawing.

The first hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, a one story structure built in 1871 to accommodate an increasing number of visitors, was closed after an Indian attack. The new National Hotel, built in 1883, was more luxurious, with several wings that included parlors for men and women, heating, electricity, and a dining hall. Also called the Mammoth Springs Hotel, it was here that Tissandier stayed during his visit to Yellowstone. Although the Boston Tour Company guidebook stated that 6,000 tourists visited Yellowstone annually during the 1880s, Tissandier observed few visitors while he was there. He wrote: "Despite the universal reputation of Yellowstone Park, I was surprised at the small number of tourists who visit it each year. At last count, only two thousand people are attracted to these marvels each season."

About this drawing of one of the numerous boiling springs that had dried, Tissandier noted that one could enter through a narrow entrance and, with the help of a ladder, descend to a depth of about 20 meters. At that depth, he said, suffocating sulfurous odors prevented further exploration.


Niagara Falls: American Falls, Cave of the Winds

April 22, 1885

The first description of Niagara Falls was written in 1697 by French explorer Father Louis Hennepin; in 1881 Jacob Schoellkopf pioneered the falls as a source of hydroelectric power. Local economy has realized enormous benefits from industries attracted to the area by the inexpensive and abundant power generated by the massive falls.

Tissandier approached the most celebrated subject in American landscape painting with all the self-assurance of an academically trained French artist. Although the Falls had been rendered by a succession of eighteenth century topographers, John Vanderlyn was the first professional American artist to picture them in 1801. His works were followed by many major Americans including Edward Hicks. John Trumbull, Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, John F. Kensett, and Frederick Church who created the emblematic universally familiar image of Niagara.

Tissandier's drawings have none of the romantic qualities of American responses to the Falls, instead his renderings are objective recordings of his observations. The two small figures in Cave of the Winds are placed there to provide information about scale and to emphasize the monumentality and force of the cascading water. Like American artists, Tissandier also saw the landscape as a marketable commodity; this drawing, like the others he produced during his six month journey, was intended to introduce French travelers to the spectacular natural formations to be seen in the United States.


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