June 29, 2009
A Midnight Race on the Mississippi by Nathaniel Currier 1813-1888
AN EXCITING SCENE OF TWO STEAMBOATS RACING DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER SIX YEARS AFTER THE CONCLUSION OF THE CIVIL WAR The Mississippi riverboat was second only to the cowboy as the quintessential American product. Indeed, Gulf Coast steamboats achieved such international popularity that wagers were placed as far away as Berlin and Vienna on the outcomes of the famous steamboat races down the Mississippi. Besides their profound economic and technological importance, steamboats also figured as important thematic elements in nineteenth-century European and American art, literature, speech and song. For example, within the works of Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Edna Ferber, Jack London, Herman Melville, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Louis Stevenson and, of course, Mark Twain, steamers served variously as symbols for the contemporary pride and progress in technology, as metaphors for the conflict between man and nature, and as elements of plot and setting. This action-packed chromolithograph depicts two paddle steamers, the Lincoln and Davies, racing down the Mississippi River at night. Both of the steamers charge through the Mississippi’s calm rivers, their hulls crashing through the waves and smokestacks emitting fiery exhausts. Both of the ornate boats are typical of their time periods, as both possess flat-bottomed hulls, 2 side-paddle wheels and are propelled by a single high pressure engine. Passengers are pictured congregating on the decks of each of the boats, eagerly anticipating the outcome of the fiercely fought race. The entire enthralling scene unfolds under a glowing full moon which is seen nestled within an electric blue night sky. This work wonderfully encapsulates the period of the steamboat’s transportation and cultural dominance in the United States, a position soon to be usurped by the mighty railroads.