The White Fawn of the Mississippi River. From Banvard’s Great Picture of the Mississippi, now exhibiting at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The words by John Banvard Esq, Music by Madame Schwieso. John Banvard, lyricist, composer Madame Harriet Schwieso.

The White Fawn of the Mississippi River. From Banvard’s Great Picture of the Mississippi, now exhibiting at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. The words by John Banvard Esq, Music by Madame Schwieso.

London: S. H. Webb, 33 Soho Square, [ca. 1847]. Hand-colored lithographic sheet-music cover, 13.25” x 9.5”. Initialed in bottom-right corner, “W.H.P” or “N.H.P.” Lacking the original music pages, which are provided in photocopy.

A scarce lithographic sheet-music cover showing a section of John Banvard’s celebrated panoramic painting of the Mississippi River—on exhibit in London at the time—and a rare piece of visual evidence of the appearance of this celebrated mid-19th century panorama.

The illustration featured here depicts a clash between warriors of the Kansas tribe (Kanza people) and their unidentified enemies, as described by Banvard in his lecture and here set to music. The White Fawn is the daughter of the Kansas chief. She climbs a nearby pinnacle (as seen in the upper right) to watch the drama unfold and witnesses the deaths of all the Kansas braves, the last killed being her betrothed. Undone by this tragic result, she pines away: ”Her bones there remain and are whitened by time / And among them now blooms a wild creeping vine.”

Visual evidence of the appearance Banvard’s panorama is exceedingly rare. The periodicals of the day seem to have only published engravings showing Banvard in the act of presenting his panorama. Indeed, the visual record of 19th century panoramic paintings in general—particularly those created prior to the Civil War—is quite minimal.

Born in New York, John Banvard (1815–1891) was a self-taught, itinerant painter of portraits and panoramas who began sketching scenes in the 1840s along the Mississippi River which he later painted in sequence on canvas—creating a panoramic painting that was eventually almost a half mile long. Banvard also devised a mechanism to make it a moving the panorama. He assembled the work in Louisville, Kentucky, where it was first shown (in a building especially erected for the purpose). The colossal work established Banvard as the finest promoter of the genre. Although the painting was described as a bit “rough” (panorama painting was typically rather cursory), the size and length of it, along with Banvard’s wit and storytelling ability, made the overall presentation very popular. After a successful run in Boston and New York, he took his panorama to London, opening at the Egyptian Hall.

The panorama proved so popular in London that Banvard was invited to exhibit it for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle, following which he continued touring throughout Europe and even in Asia and Africa. The panorama made Banvard a wealthy man, and upon his return to the U.S. he built a mansion based on Windsor Castle on the north shore of Long Island where he lived until his death in 1891. Following its successful tour, the panorama was dissected and dispersed.

Worldcat records a single copy, at the Minnesota Historical Society.

A rare representation of a portion of a lost Mississippi River panorama.

REFERENCES: McDermott, John Francis. “Banvard's Mississippi Panorama Pamphlets.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949).

CONDITION: Very good, a touch of foxing.

Item #6851

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