A couple years back I had the opportunity to get an early tour of the Navigating the West : George Caleb Bingham and the River on its stay at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. There is a little writeup on that exhibit and my first visit to the museum here. What fascinated me even more than getting to see Bingham’s sketches and art mostly all in one place was the inclusion of the giant panorama painting of a trip down the Mississippi River. I am still awed by this thing and it has its own in depth analysis here. It started down a tributary of my own dissertation work as I discovered more and more about this particular panorama and the genre of panoramas in general. They were ubiquitous in Antebellum America and traversed to and from England and Europe. They were full fanfares and had lectures and music accompanist for the full adventure effect.
Recently I saw a reference to this particular piece of the Grandeur of the Mississippi panorama indicating that the man in the white pants was Albert Koch of American paleontological hoax fame (hydrachos and the missourium specifically). After asking around and getting to some older sources no where does it outright say that it is Koch, but the geography of the bonebed along the Ohio and the fossils depicted in the riverbank–and Koch’s fame (or infamy) make it likely that one of them is Koch.
If that is the case this panorama is now tied to all but one of the major themes in my dissertation.
There were polar expedition panoramas, there were Napoleonic battle panoramas (some of the first ones produced were battle “reenactments” as I understand it) But they go further still, and given the nature of the medium, the miles traveling, the rolling and rerolling almost none of these survive. Thankfully though the ones we do have give you a sense of how wonderful they would have been to behold.
Just last year the Smithsonian Magazine covered the restoration of the 1, 275 feet long, 8.5 feet tall “Grand Panorama of a Waling Voyage Round the World”
This December another rama is finishing up a huge restoration project. “The Battle of Atlanta” cyclorama is a 359 feet long panorama displayed in a circular room, a 360 degree immersive experience that became popular a couple generations–this one opened in 1888–after the heyday of panoramas, the Mississippi Grandeur one above was from 1851. Unlike the (relatively) easy portable panoramas the cyclorama is nearly 50 feet tall. There are many more photos in the December 2018 article from Smithsonian Magazine
Apart from the art restoration of the Atlanta piece the article delves into the myriad of ways that the piece itself has changed–both physically and figuratively over the years, why there is a Clark Gable mannequin as part of the cylcorama diorama, and the evolution of how an enormous tribute to a major Union army victory during the Civil War came to live first at the Atlanta Zoo and eventually under the pervue of the Atlanta History Center. It is a fantastic read.
Earlier this year a more local newspaper ran the the story of the cyclorama and the restoration process there. The Reporter Newspaper includeds several images that aren’t included in the Smithsonian article and more about the museum where the restored Battle of Atlanta cyclorama will be displayed.
In 2016 Amusing Planet did a flickr/internet sweep and pulled in a nice collection of photos of panoramas.
There are two great books on the subject, The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium by Stephan Oetterman is a dense but highly informative history of the genre/medium/culture and The Painted Panorama by French author Bernard Comment (translated into English by Anne-Marie Glasheen) which, according to Martin R Kaldatovic at the Smithsonian library is ” a fine complement to Stephan Oettermann’s somewhat more academic The Panorama (LJ 1/98), this is an accessible introduction for informed lay readers.