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John J. Egan, American (born Ireland), 1810–1882; Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley (scene 20 of 25), c.1850; tempera on lightweight fabric;
90 in. x 348 ft. (228.6 x 10607.1 cm); Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

In 2011, the Saint Louis Art Museum embarked on an ambitious conservation project to save a historic treasure of local significance, the only surviving panorama of the Mississippi River. Working in the Museum galleries, a team of conservators provided visitors the unique opportunity to view the restoration of this 348-foot-long painting. The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley (1850) was commissioned by amateur archaeologist Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson and created by artist John J. Egan.

The Panorama functioned as a scrolling slide show in the 1850s for Dickeson’s traveling lectures about his excavation of ancient burial mounds and 19th-century Native American life. The colorful, expansive scenes painted by Egan present the appearance of this picturesque and historically significant river sites.

The manner in which the panorama is currently displayed in Sculpture Hall suggests that it is a single painting. Concealed by its frame, however, are twenty-four more scenes illustrated on a long strip of fabric attached to two vertical rollers. It provides a wide view of cultures and landscape (hence the tern “panorama”) set along the Mississippi and Ohio River valley.

This restoration project was made possible through the support of U.S. Representative William "Lacy" Clay and former U.S. Senator Christopher S. "Kit" Bond by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Any views, finding, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the Panorama’s supporting materials do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Financial assistance for this project was provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Learn more about the history of the Panorama and the preservation process in this 2011 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.