St. Louis Mercantile Library


Henry Lewis, Piasa Rock
Henry Lewis (1819-1904)
Piasa Rock, 1847, color lithograph
Plate 58 in Das illustrirte Mississippithal (The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated) published in 1850
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis

Henry Lewis and his father arrived in St. Louis in 1836. They had come to the United States from England ten years earlier and had settled in Boston, but it was in the Missouri river town that young Lewis found his artistic inspiration. Almost entirely self-taught, Lewis became known for his landscape paintings. His travels throughout the area in the 1840s resulted in numerous sketches and paintings, some of which served as inspiration for his mural of the Mississippi River that was twelve feet high and over thirteen hundred feet long.

Lewis’ rendering of the Piasa Rock was created during the artist’s travels on the river and illustrates the legend of a man-eating bird that terrorized native tribes. Once the bird was vanquished, its image was carved into the bluff to commemorate the triumph. Lewis’ view captures the mystery of the image carved in an inaccessible location, and his inclusion of figures provides a comparison of scale between the human form and that of the massive bird.