St. Louis Mercantile Library
Lamasson, possibly Henry Lewis, Great Fire
Attributed to Lamasson, possibly by Henry Lewis (1819-1904)
St. Louis Riverfront after the Great Fire of 1849, (detail) 1849,
watercolor on paper
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University
of Missouri - St. Louis
(This work is currently displayed on Level 2 in
the Mercantile Entrance Lobby)
This image represents one quarter of the total painting of the Mississippi
Riverfront that depicts the tragic results of the fire of 1849. The catastrophe
resulted when a barge caught fire and drifted down the busy riverfront,
spreading the fire to boats and docks along the way. The artwork's long
narrow format relates the work to the tradition of panorama painting popular
in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.
Undated documentation attached to the reverse of the painting indicates
the donor’s name and attributes the work to an artist called “Lamasson,”
although the work is unsigned and no information about this artist has
been located. Stylistically, the work is nearly identical to that of better-known
panorama artist Henry Lewis who was known to have painted several scenes
related to this fire. A smaller version of this painting that is signed
“Lemasson” is known to have descended in the Henry Lewis family.
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.
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