The Saint Louis Art Museum’s conservators have rolled The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley back to Scene 15: Chamberlain’s Gigantic Mounds and Walls; Natchez above the Hill. This scene is modeled on one of Dickeson’s archaeological sketches, though the precise location of the mound site is unknown. Dickeson likely chose this calm, soothing scene to balance the violence and drama of the previous scene, which depicts the Battle of Fort Rosalie.
At the height of their popularity in the mid-19th century, there were hundreds of moving panoramas being used for education and entertainment. Only a fraction of those paintings have survived to the present day, most in very poor condition. The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley is the only surviving panorama of the Mississippi Valley, originally one of the most popular subjects for panorama paintings.
Fortunately, this long-underappreciated medium has gained attention over the past few years, and efforts are underway to conserve several of these distinctive and important works. Below you’ll find a few other noteworthy panorama paintings.
The Saint Louis Art Museum’s conservators aren’t the first people to attempt to repair the extensive damage on The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley. As they move from scene to scene, the Museum’s conservators frequently encounter areas that have been retouched by previous restorers. As you can see from the images below, these areas of earlier restoration can be very problematic – often the colors don’t match, or details have been left out.
Scene 24: Temple of the Sun by Sunset is now on view at Restoring an American Treasure. This is the last completed scene of The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley – Scene 25, the actual final scene, was never finished.
Scene 24 appears to be more symbolic than factual. As far as we can tell, there was no real “Temple of the Sun,” though the sun does feature prominently in the religion and culture of the Natchez Indians. The mound serves instead as a setting for the spectacular sunset that fills the scene, allegorically ending the narrative of the panorama.
Even though this is the last completed scene of the panorama, the exhibition continues through September 3. Scenes 15, 16, 17, 19 and 21 still need to be restored, so keep your eyes out for one of those scenes to go on view in about a week!
Thanks to Saint Louis Art Museum friend Joyce Wilson for finding this great panorama reference in a children’s book originally published in 1868 (not too long after The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi was painted):
“O, Dotty,” said Susy, presently, “tell me what you saw Out West. I want to hear all about it.”
“Well, I saw a pandrammer,” replied Dotty, briefly.
“What in the world is that?” said Johnny.
“It is a long picture, and they keep pulling it out like India rubber.”
“She means a panorama” cried Johnny. “Why, I went to one last night. We can see as much as you can, without going Out West, either.”
- Exerpt from Dottie Dimple at Play