Niagara Falls, pastel on paper, 9¼ x 15¼in., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Niagara Falls, oil on canvas, 62 x 100in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
Niagara Falls, oil on canvas, 62 x 100in., Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts
The fire that swept through William Morris Hunt's Boston studio in 1872 was nearly devestating to the artist's career. A large portion of more than thirty years work was gone in an instant. Several important figural works, created while a student of Millet's in Paris, were lost as were numerous portraits and figure studies executed in Hunt's Boston studio. It appears that the fire instilled in Hunt a desire to reinvent his painting style and the subjects that he would focus on for the remainder of his career.
In a gesture of great friendship, John Malcolm Forbes convinced Hunt to travel south to Florida to spend the winter of 1873-1874 to rest and hopefully to find a new vision and encouragement to paint important canvases. The light and atmosphere of Florida immediately captured Hunt's attention and gave him the impetus to paint plein-air landscapes. Indeed this genre would so please the artist that he would devote most of his successful efforts to it for the last seven years of his life.
Early in 1878 Hunt set out for Niagara to study the falls and to prepare for a restful trip abroad before returning to Boston to spend another winter. The Niagara trip was planned for brevity and Hunt brought few canvases. So struck was he by the beauty and majesty of the falls, that he sent to Boston for supplies and canvases. He spent nearly three months near Niagara Falls, creating what is now regarded as his most important series of landscapes, completed just one year prior to his untimely death.