Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 318 – Descriptions Four Chemical Paintings in Cincinnati – 1843

Part 318: Descriptions Four Chemical Paintings in Cincinnati – 1843

Robert Winter Jr. was the proprietor of four “Chemical Paintings” that toured the country. Each of the four drops measured 200 square feet in size and depicted a transition from day to night. They were noted to be the American equivalent to original compositions painted by Daguerre and managed by M. M. Maffey and Lonati. Daguerre’s paintings were much smaller. And were initially advertised as “Daguerre’s Dioramas from Paris… tableaux being represented with modification of light, will produce the wonderful and magical effect of day to night” (Evening Post, New York, 29 Oct. 1840, page 3). Daguerre’s composition’s included the “interior of the Church St. Etienne du Mont, at Paris” and “the magnificent View of Venice, or a festival night of the Carnival.”

Almost three years later, Winter’s “chemical paintings show” appeared at a Concert Hall in Cincinnati. Articles reported that each painted backdrop “represented two distinct pictures, which form the peculiar style of execution, the varied nature and combination of the illuminating powers employed, produces changes the most astonishing, and at the same time the most natural, in the power of the artist, machinist or optician, to effect” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 Aug. 1843, page 3).
I am reminded the lengthy description of “A Day in the Alps” published for the Columbian Exposition of Thomas Moses’ painting. Fifty years earlier, here are the four descriptions of the compositions presented in 1843 in Cincinnati.

The following article described Winter’s compositions and was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on 14 Aug 1843:
“Daguerre’s Grand Chemical Secret Discovered! To be exhibited at Concert Hall, over the Post Office, every evening, until further notice” (page 3).

No. 1 – View in the City of Milan
This picture represents the grand front of Milan Cathedral, which in gothic architecture, in fret work, in carving, and in statuary, surpasses all other buildings in the world. The building was commenced in 1306, and completed by order of Napoleon in 1805. It is adorned interiorly and exteriorly with four hundred statues in bas reliefs. The picture after passing thro’ all the gradations of light from day to night, will appear as though illuminated by the silvery beams of the rising moon, producing a surprising change in the sky. The several windows and lamps of the Cafes and Merchants Arcade will be lit, and discover numerous figures passing to, and entering the Cathedral, which will appear as when lit up for the celebration of Midnight Mass, displaying the gothic painted windows, and part of the interior.

No. 2 – View of the City Jerusalem and the Crucifixion
This picture is taken from the celebrated painting by Martin, represents a distant view of the far famed City; on the left will be perceived the three crosses erected on Mount Calvary; to the right, the gates of entrance through the walls to the City, which together with the Mount & the adjacent country, will appear buried in repose, no figures whatever at this time being seen. A gradual change will take place over the whole face of the picture, displaying the gorgeous tints of an Eastern sunset, until the sky assumes an awful and terrific aspect, occasionally illuminated by vivid flashes of lightning. The Heavens will now appear to burst with a lurid light, gradually displaying the figures on the crosses, and the various groups composing the subject of the crucifixion. After a while, all will seem to recede and die away, giving place to the beautifully calm and quiet appearance of the break of day, until the picture assumes the same image of coloring it had when first disclosed.

Details of a painted scene for the Scottish Rite in the late-nineteenth century. Currently the drop is at the Salina Scottish Rite Theatre in Kansas.
Details of a painted scene for the Scottish Rite in the late-nineteenth century. Currently the drop is at the Salina Scottish Rite Theatre in Kansas.
Details of a painted scene for the Scottish Rite in the late-nineteenth century. Currently the drop is at the Salina Scottish Rite Theatre in Kansas. This is one of dozens of theatre scenes depicting the crucifixion still in existence across the country.
Looking through the cut drop at a crucifixion backdrop in Grand Forks, North Dakota at the Masonic Center.

No. 3 – Interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This is a view of the large rotunda, in the center of whose floor stands the Holy Sepulchre, surrounded by several large columns that supports the gallery, and ornamented by an immense number of silver lamps and candlesticks, presents Rome, and the courts and religious orders of Europe. The Church is illuminated by day from the light which falls from the lofty dome on the Holy Sepulchre, which is oblong form, and composed of stone which has the appearance of fine white marble. Darkness will gradually spread over the building, when the large wax candles and numerous lamps, will appear as though burning, and casting their mellow light on the groups of pilgrims beneath, at their devotions, and display the grand procession of the three orders around the Sepulchre. During the Easter ceremonies, on the right the Greek and Romish dignitaries, surrounded by their chief ecclesiastics; on the left, the Armenians, who being the most wealthy, wear on this occasion their most costly robes. Over the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre are suspended two pictures, presents from the Greek and Roman Churches, one representing the ascension our Saviour, the other, His appearance to Mary in the Garden.

No. 4 – The Feast of Belshazzar
This picture, copied form one by Martin, on a much larger scale that ever before attempted, discloses to the admiration of the beholder, the immense Court of the Palace of Babylon, once the pride and wonder of the world – adorned with a countless number of colored marble Pillars, and an infinite variety of Sepulchres. In the distance stands the Tower of Babel; also the Temple of Belus, built by Queen Semiramia in honor of King Belus, who was afterwards worshipped as a God.- In the foreground at the foot of the table, already prepared for the Banquet, on which is displayed the Holy vessels which Nebuchadnezer brought out of the spoils of the Temple. The shades of evening will gradually close upon this splendid specimen of ancient grandeur, until sufficiently dark, for the numerous fires and incense burners to cast light enough to display the figures of Belshazzar and all his Court, on the Dais, or Platform, at the Banquet, with immense Multitude, amounting to over one thousand figures, engaged in the worship of the various Deities and graven images. The magical appearance of the handwriting on the wall, coupled with the consternation of the idolatrous King and household, at the interpretation by Daniel the Prophet, forms at this moment a picture which can hardly be imagined, much less described, it being actually necessary to witness it, in order t form a just conception of the grand and soulstirring effect it has, when thus presented to the eye of the wrapt and admiring beholder.

The doors will be open at 7 ½ o’clock, and the exhibition will commence at 8 precisely. Single Tickets 50 cents. Tickets to admit a lady and a Gentleman 75 cents; do to admit two ladies and one Gentleman $1 – to be obtained at the principal Hotels and Music stores in the city. Aug 10.”
The show was still touring under R. Winter’s management in 1846 when it was in Richmond, Virginia (Richmond Enquirer 10 March 1846, page 2).

To be continued…

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