During the summer of 2019, visitors to the Saint Louis Art Museum experienced something out of the ordinary in Sculpture Hall. For 12 weeks, art conservators treated a work from our collection, Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley. This work is nearly 170 years old.
The painting is a “moving panorama,” which was a popular form of entertainment in the 1800s that attempted to replicate an actual experience for its audience through sound, light, and other special effects. It consists of 350 feet of fabric wrapped around two rollers that was scrolled horizontally from one roller to the other to display 25 individual scenes. Over the course of time, as it traveled from town to town, the panorama was repeatedly disassembled and displayed, causing the lightweight fabric to wrinkle and the paint to wear off.
Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley is the only known Mississippi River panorama that exists today. It was in a state of disrepair when the Museum acquired it in 1953. Conservation began in 2011 when plans were in place to exhibit the work. On August 9, 2019 conservators completed the extensive, nine-year project by treating and preserving the final three damaged scenes. During this process, Museum visitors had the unique opportunity to observe and interact with the conservation team while they worked.