Mississippi River Moving Panoramas

Moving Panoramas of the Mississippi - Past and Present

This page is a collection of historical information about 19th century  moving panoramas of the Mississippi River  AND  the modern day musical GEORAMA which tells the story of one of the most well known moving panorama showmen - John Banvard.

GEORAMA - a musical about moving panorama showman John Banvard

January 20 - February 7, 2016 - A world-premiere musical. In the mid 1800s, John Banvard created the first, really successful moving panorama, a three-mile long scrolled painting celebrating the majesty of the Mighty Mississippi. Once a starving sketch artist, his creation catapulted him to a life of luxury and notoriety, but also brought competition and deception that threatened to push his passion to the wayside.

The St. Louis Rep crew painted a 600' long moving panorama for the show.  They did a spectacular job.  Hats off to the GEORAMA director, West Hyler, who took the more difficult road in producing a real moving panorama for the show instead of digitally projecting the image.  It was fabulous.  Also, thank you to the St. Louis Rep Theater for believing in the project.

The musical was performed at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis through Feb. 7th, 2016, at the  Emerson Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center.

You can see the canvas roll in this trailer.

John Banvard and his Moving Panorama of the Mississippi River

John Banvard (1815-1891) was one of the most successful and well known moving panorama showman of the mid 19th century.  He spent two years sketching the Mississippi River before painting his "three miles of canvas".  

Banvard was a self-taught artist. The moving panorama did not survive to this day, but it was described as being a bit "rough" or "folk artish". The scroll, together with masterful story telling made the show a HUGE success. He became the richest artist of his time.

He took the moving panorama to London where it was again very well received.  The combination of his Yankee delivery, joke telling and artwork "transported" the audience across the Atlantic.  The show was so successful he was invited to  perform for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.

To learn more about his life and work, see the books and  resources at the bottom of this page.

1852 engraving, John Banvard performing for Queen Victoria.
In 1848 this illustration appeared in the article "John Banvard and His Panorama" in the magazine Scientific American.
The "Egan/Dickeson" 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. http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/...
The last surviving 19th century panorama of the Mississippi River can be seen at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, in the exhibition 'Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River,' on view October 2, 2014, through January 18, 2015. This time-lapse video shows the Installation crew at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art working over a period of four days to assemble and install a custom-built device to safely hold and display one scene on the panorama. 'Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley' was painted circa 1850 by John J. Egan (born in Ireland, active in 19th century). The painting measures 7-1/2 by 348 feet and depicts 24 different scenes. It is on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum. During the mid-19th century, moving panoramas proliferated as a popular form of visual entertainment. These long strips of painted canvas were mounted on two vertical rollers and wound from one roller to the other so that a series of scenes scrolled past a gathered audience. The Mississippi River was a popular subject for such panoramas, and many examples toured throughout the United States and Europe. For information about the exhibition: cartermuseum.org/exhibitions/navigating-the-west-george-caleb-bingham-and-the-river For information about the panorama: tfaoi.com/aa/10aa/10aa120.htm Read More…

St. Louis Art Museum

The St. Louis Art Museum houses the Dickeson/Egan moving panorama.  The museum is in the process of restoring the fragile scroll.  Separate scenes of the moving panorama are on display.  Only 20 or so of the 19th century, huge moving panoramas survived and this is one of the few places in the world where you can see a panel on display.  I encourge you to visit!  And have a wonderful lunch at the Panorama Restaurant at the museum! Here is their website SLAM.org

The top part of a broadside advertising the "Dickeson/Egan" Mississippi moving panorama that resides at the St. Louis Art Museum.