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: Two St. Croix Landscapes by Henry Lewis


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
During the past few years the Institute has been assembling a small group of nineteenth century American landscapes which have a special interest for the Institute because of their association with the early history of Minnesota. Among these are a View of Fort Snelling by Seth Eastman, Farnham's Mill, Minneapolis and the Mill Pond at Minneapolis by Alex Fournier, and a view of St. Anthony Falls in 1848 by Henry Lewis. Lewis is also the author of the two latest additions to the group: Gorge of the St. Croix and Cheever's Mill on the St. Croix. Both are dated in 1847, but it is possible that both are later paintings developed from sketches made by Lewis during his trip up the St. Croix in that year. An oil sketch of the latter painting is in the collection of The Minnesota Historical Society and is reproduced in the Society's monograph on Henry Lewis' Journal of a Canoe Voyage from the Falls of St. Anthony to St. Louis with introduction and notes by Bertha L. Heilbron. The sketch is dated 1848, but it is obviously an earlier rendering than the Institute's painting and since it was in 1847 that Lewis made his most extended exploration of the St. Croix it seems logical to assume that it was done in that year. The paintings, on the other hand, may have been completed as much as a decade later from the 1847 sketches. Such, at least, was the case with some of Lewis' other paintings, notably the Institute's view of St. Anthony Falls, which was painted in Düsseldorf in 1855 from the sketch made in 1848.The St. Croix views will have a special charm for everyone interested in the early look of the river and especially for those who still make the St. Croix the goal of holiday outings. Both depict rugged, withdrawn, enclosed stretches of the river whose isolation is only emphasized by the tentative signs of civilization to be found in mill, boat, or scattered dwellings. Lewis had, to a high degree, the gift of creating a mood, and this is particularly noticeable in the painting of the Gorge of the St. Croix. The narrow house, dwarfed by towering trees and sheltered by cliffs that seem to enfold it, the long reflections in the quiet surface of the river, and the ducks skittering across the water, convey the sense of peace and isolation which we know, from his Journal, that Lewis found in his trips on the Mississippi and the St. Croix. The steamship "Cora," represented in the painting, was a well-known craft along the two rivers in the late '40s, and it is possible that Lewis was aboard her on this particular journey.The second painting, with its characteristic Minnesota sky and the bluff sloping down to the river, represents one of the early mills established in the Stillwater region to provide lumber for Fort Snelling. Like its companion, it is painted in a low key, the only touches of color occurring in the costumes of the few figures and in wildflowers and shrubs along the shore.Although Lewis is best known for his stupendous panoramic painting of the Mississippi, a work in which a primitive form of the motion picture is now recognized, and as the author of Das Illustrierte Mississippithal, which relates the story of Lewis' pictorial pilgrimage down the Mississippi, it is in such paintings as those described above that his greatest interest as painter and explorer lies. He was not by any means a great artist, but his small landscapes have a charm of color and a quality of intimacy that endear them to the beholder, and many an observer will find in them a feeling for nature more profound and infinitely more appealing than that to be encountered in other, more ambitious, landscapes.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Gorge of the St. Croix by Henry Lewis, American, 1819-1904. From a sketch made in 1847. Julia B. Bigelow Fund
  2. Cheever's Mill on the St. Croix River by Henry Lewis. From a sketch made in 1847. Julia B. Bigelow Fund
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Source: "Two St. Croix Landscapes by Henry Lewis," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 37, no. 18 (May, 1948): 87-90.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009