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The Great Horseshoe Fall, Niagara

1820 Alvan Fisher Born: Needham, Massachusetts 1792 Died: Dedham, Massachusetts 1863 oil on canvas 34 3/8 x 48 in. (87.2 x 122.0 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1966.82.1 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, South Wing

Exhibition Label

Artist Alvan Fisher traveled to Niagara Falls during the summer of 1820 when formerly impassable roads were improving and tourism was booming. Fisher was careful to show in his painting that a visit to Niagara was not for sissies. His panoramic view includes a pair of men helping a companion over the bank as he returns from the dangerous flight of wooden steps leading down to the river. Contemporary newspapers were filled with stories about the harrowing ordeal of the stairs. Rickety and wet with spray, they subjected those fit enough to attempt them to buffeting winds and crumbling rocks that threatened to give way. Guidebooks touted the experience of the Niagara staircase as an immersion in God's power.

The Great American Hall of Wonders, 2011


Gallery Label

Two scenes by Fisher (this painting and Fisher's A General View of the Falls of Niagara) capture the thrill of visiting Niagara Falls, a site in upstate New York that quickly became a symbol of the continent's epic scale and natural beauty. Tiny figures throw out their arms as if trying to describe to one another the vastness of what they see. Elegant tourists peer decorously across the chasm through opera glasses, while one young lady covers her ears against the stupendous noise. Reckless young men lie on their stomachs, daring one another to draw closer to the rock's edge.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Figure(s) in exterior - water

Landscape - Canada - Niagara Falls

Landscape - phenomenon - rainbow

Landscape - waterfall - Horseshoe Falls

Landscape - waterfall - Niagara Falls


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Alvan Fisher

Born: Needham, Massachusetts 1792 Died: Dedham, Massachusetts 1863

More works in the collection by
Alvan Fisher