link: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Currents of Change, Art and Life Along the Mississippi, 1850-1861
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Currents of Change

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Currents of Change
Father of Waters
Commerce and Culture
Mississippi Panorama
Handsomely Furnished
In the French Taste
Collectors and Exhibitions
Longfellow and the Mississippi
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The Mississippi River has long been the stuff of legends, from Marquette and Jolliet's earliest exploration to later expeditions in search of its headwaters. Early explorers sought to map its scope, to stake their political claims for European powers, and to discover what riches the new land might offer. Later, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, fur traders and voyageurs described a land not only of striking beauty and vast natural resources, but also of great commercial value.

By the middle of the 19th century, the Mississippi River was firmly entrenched in the American imagination as the Father of Waters, a romantic appellation recalling both the river gods of classical antiquity and Native Americans' perception of the great river. Artists throughout the world were drawn to the Upper Mississippi's dramatic forested bluffs and fantastic rock formations, which evoked the vanishing wilderness. Yet the river was never far removed from the world of commerce. Imaginative allusions coexisted with the Mississippi's growing importance in the economic life of the American West, and artists depicted the bustling riverbanks and steamboat traffic that opened the interior of the continent to new settlement.