Although he was born in England, Henry Lewis emigrated to the United States with his family when he was a child. He lived in Boston and in 1836 moved to Saint Louis, where he learned the carpenter’s trade. A few years later he began to work as a painter of stage scenery at the city’s theatre.
Lewis travelled to the Mississippi area in 1846 to draw the landscape, and returned again in 1848. The sketches made during this second trip were the basis of a panoramic landscape painting, which he titled Mammoth Panorama of the Mississippi River. The painting was first exhibited in Cincinnati, the city he lived in from 1848 to 1849. Lewis spent the next few years visiting many cities of the east coast with this huge work and travelled to Europe with it in 1851. The panorama was shown in various countries until it was finally bought by a Dutch landowner.
Two years after arriving in Europe, Lewis decided to establish himself in Düsseldorf. In 1854 he published Das Illustrierte Mississippi, a book in which his illustrations were accompanied by texts written by George B. Douglas. Despite having settled permanently in Europe and never returning to the United States, for the rest of his life Lewis continued to paint landscapes inspired by the sketches made during his trips to the Mississippi.