John J. Egan's Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley

John J. Egan (American [born Ireland], active mid-19th century). Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, ca. 1850. Distemper on cotton muslin; 90 in. x 348 ft. (228.6 x 10607.1 cm). Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza M. McMillan Trust, 34:1953

Moving panoramas became a popular form of visual entertainment during the mid-nineteenth century, and the Mississippi River was a favorite subject. Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, commissioned by the amateur archaeologist Wilson Dickeson (1810–1882) and painted by artist John J. Egan, is the only known surviving panorama of the Mississippi River.

The 348-foot-long panorama is made up of twenty-five scenes that imaginatively interpret the history of the River Valley and indicate specific locations. Its focus is more archaeological in nature, with depictions of ancient Native American burial mounds. At the base of one of the mounds, Dickeson's own excavation is shown underway, carried out by plantation slaves. Egan sought to keep the audience's attention by portraying a wide range of weather conditions—including storms, snow, a tornado, and a rainbow—which he executed with dramatic lighting effects.

Produced in conjunction with the exhibition Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River, on view June 17–September 20, 2015.

Animation: Paul Caro
Photography: Saint Louis Art Museum

© 2015 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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