John Cushman Abbott Exhibit Supplement

The Mississippi River sketched by Lewis, 1846-1848
The Mississippi River
sketched by Lewis, 1846-1848.

vii. Das illustrirte Mississippithal

Das illustrirte Mississippithal: dargestellt in 80 nach der Natur aufgenommenen Ansichten vom Wasserfalle zu St. Anthony an bis zum Gulf von Mexico (eine Entfernung von ungefähr 2300 englischen Meilen).

Text and illustrations by Henry Lewis.
Translated by George B. Douglas.
Düsseldorf: Arnz & Comp., [1857].

431 pages, [79] leaves of plates (1 folded), illustrations (chiefly color), 29 cm (4to) -- Written in German. -- Originally issued in fascicles: no. 1-3, 1854, no. 4-6, 1855, no. 7-20, 1857. -- Signatures: [1]-5425⁴ -- Illustrations include chromolithograph plates, a tinted lithograph frontispiece, and an integrated wood engraving on page 163. -- Library catalog record.

Click here for the entire book.

Henry Lewis emigrated with his father and older brothers from Shropshire, England to Boston in 1829. He was ten years old. Lewis' older brothers soon went West to St. Louis. Lewis and his father joined them in 1836, the same year Joseph Nicollet left St. Louis on his first expedition up the Mississippi River. In fact, Das Illustrirte Mississippithal quotes Nicollet's Report in several places. (1)

Lewis did carpentry work in St. Louis and eventually earned local acclaim as a talented self-taught landscape painter. At the age of 29, he began a project to create a panorama depicting various scenes along the entire length of the Mississippi River. Moving panoramas were very popular in the mid-19th century. A huge canvas -- Lewis' would be 12 feet high by approximately 1300 yards long -- was spooled on cylinders to create a continuous rolling backdrop behind a speaker. Lewis had already spent the previous two summers sketching scenes along the Mississippi River. He set out in the spring of 1848 to fill in the gaps, with the assistance of a field artist named Rogers. Painting and construction of the panorama began in the fall of 1848. The panorama of the upper portion of the river opened in Cincinnati the following May, and the lower portion was completed by August. The panorama gave the audience the illusion of travelling the Mississippi River on a steamboat. It was popular but only marginally profitable. Lewis took it overseas in 1851, touring England, Holland, and Germany to rave reviews. But it was never a financial success and he sold it in 1854.

Lewis stayed in Düsseldorf, where he married his wife Marie. He decided to transform the views he had created for the panorama into a book, with the aid of the eminent lithographic firm Arnz and Company. Although the title page implies that the book was written by George B. Douglas, it was actually written by Lewis in English and translated by Douglas into German. Much of the text consists of (often uncredited) selections of works by other authors. Lewis resided in Germany until his death in 1904.

---Written by Mary Z. Rose

Das Illustrirte Mississippithal
Illustrations shown below; click to enlarge. Click here for the entire book.

Footnotes to exhibition text:

1. See pages 10-15, 58-61, 70, 470, and footnote on page 43. Click here to access the entire book. Page numbers refer to the pages of the pdf file, not the page numbers printed in the book. Pages 10-15 are taken verbatim from the "Sketch of the History of St. Louis" section of Nicollet's Report.

References consulted for exhibition text:

Lewis, Henry. The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated. Trans. A. Hermina Poatgieter, ed. Bertha L. Heilbron. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1967. (Library catalog record.)

McDermott, John Francis. The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958. (Library catalog record.)

Petersen, William J. Mississippi River Panorama: The Henry Lewis Great National Work. Iowa City: Clio Press, 1979. (Library catalog record.)