The air would be embalmed with exhalations from the flowers and the plants, and the multitude of turtle doves would fly from tree to tree, without any symptoms of fear at your approach… The calmness of the air, the silence of the night, would add still further to their majesty, and the soil, casting an eye over the ages that have passed away before their unshaken mass, would tremble with involuntary respect… What delightful reflections would pass through the mind from an attentive perusal of these ancient tombs. And the brilliant and fertile imagination, that happy enchantress, would afford an agreeable allusion that would embellish these places with all the measures of poetry. These rural spots would be flowers strewed over the thorny road of life.
- Montroville W. Dickeson, 1948, describing the parks he suggested could be established around earthen mounds
Scene 22: De Soto’s Burial at White Cliffs takes place at night, De Soto and his soldiers lit only by moonlight. It turns out that during Dickeson’s lectures, that light wasn’t just painted on canvas.
The Saint Louis Art Museum’s conservators recently discovered that the moon in Scene 22 is actually a cut-out with a piece of greased fabric sewn behind it. During a lecture, a worker would have held a lantern behind this fabric, making the moon glow. The 1850s version of special effects, this added lighting would have surprised audiences and added the kind of dramatic flair Dickeson seems to have favored in his lectures.
Today we have more information about Scene 22 provided by Janeen Turk, senior curatorial assistant in American Art.
As he orchestrated a narrative for his massive panorama, Montroville W. Dickeson included a handful of pre-19th century historical moments. Scene 22: De Soto’s Burial at White Cliffs is one of these. Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer, was the first European to reach the Mississippi River. He and his men made it to the River in 1541 and then explored a bit farther west. By early 1542, they had returned to the Mississippi, just in time for de Soto to perish near the site of his greatest discovery. The story goes that de Soto had tried to convince the local Native Americans that he was a god, so his men buried him in the Mississippi River at night, to hide the fact that he was not immortal after all.
The conservators of The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley have moved on to Scene 22: De Soto’s Burial at White Cliffs. Unlike the previous scene, which was based on Dickeson’s own work, Scene 22 depicts a sensationalized historical event, the burial of the Spanish conquistador, Hernando De Soto.
Check back here tomorrow for a guest post about this scene by Janeen Turk, senior curatorial assistant for American Art!
There’s a lot going on in Scene 20, so here are some answers to questions that have come up regarding this scene.
Q: You mentioned that Dickeson is one of the men in Scene 20. Which one is he?
A: Because none of the figures are labeled, we can’t be certain which individual is meant to represent Dickeson. He may be the central figure holding a notepad, speaking to the man in a yellow hat, or the man to the left with a large sketchpad. In the images we have of Dickeson, he has a beard, similar to the central figure (we can’t see the facial hair on the man to the left.) Dickeson also made sketches of archaeological sites similar to the one being drawn by the man on the left.