Perhaps no one loved Utah’s Great Salt Lake as much as 19th century painter and poet Alfred Lambourne. An English-born Mormon convert with a gift for writing and illustration, Lambourne was known for his large panorama-style paintings of Utah scenery and writings about living alone on an island on Great Salt Lake. His paintings were on par with Hudson River School art contemporaries such as Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, but Lambourne’s work was unique for how it captured Utah’s epic, desolate inland sea with a haunting visual beauty.
When Lambourne arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with his family in 1866 at the age of 16, he began working as a set painter for the Salt Lake Theater. His self-taught painting skills impressed local Mormon leader Brigham Young, and Lambourne accompanied him a few years later on a trip to document Zion Canyon. His ability to capture starlight, moonlight, water, mist, and other elements of the landscape of the American West on a grand scale made him well-known across the Rocky Mountains.
Lambourne was among the first artists to visit and document Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, but no landscape captured his mind quite as much as Great Salt Lake. While homesteading on its shores, he wrote about Gunnison Island, saying it was “ghostly, wrapped in its shroud of snow.” In a 1909 publication of his homesteading journals called Our Inland Sea, Lambourne described the lake with terror and awe, writing about the desolate wilderness around him being “deeper than all imagining” and calling it “the savage poem around me."
Similar to other Hudson River School painters who visited the Mountain West, Lambourne’s paintings and poetry created a deeper appreciation for Utah’s landscape that had a lasting effect on visitors and locals alike. The landscapes that he captured in epic, wall-sized panoramas were later protected as National and State Parks and are regular tourist destinations today. But perhaps his greatest artistic feat was his ability to capture the loneliness, mystery, and grand beauty of Great Salt Lake -- one that keeps us visiting its briny shores time and time again.
See Hikmet Sidney Loe, “Alfred Lambourne’s Great Salt Lake at the UMFA,” 15 Bytes, January 6, 2014, Accessed June 2020; “The Hudson River School,” American Museum of Western Art: The Anschutz Collection, Accessed June 2020; Alfred Lambourne, Our Inland Sea: The Story of a Homestead (Deseret News Publishers, 1909).