In art, a long painting stretched round the inside walls of circular buildings, intended to create the illusion of real scenery seen from a central vantage point (sometimes called a cyclorama). They were popular throughout the 19th century, illustrating subjects such as the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and Niagara Falls.
A journey through the scenery could be simulated by revolving a canvas round stationary spectators. Another means was to wind canvases from one roller to another, with continuous scenery passing across a proscenium opening, a method lending itself to use in the theatre. Many of the techniques developed to bring an ever-greater sense of reality to the panorama helped to prepare the way for both cinema and photography.
Panoramas were also popular in the theatre, the Grieve family being the first to make use of them in London. In 1820 they incorporated one in a Christmas pantomime, and in 1823 they showed a balloon journey from London to Paris. Well-known London panorama painters for the theatre were Clarkson Stanfield (1793–1867) and David Roberts (1796–1864).
Early history The first completely circular panorama was shown by Robert Barker (1739–1806) in Leicester Square, London, in 1792. An instant success, it featured The English Fleet Anchored between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight (the rotunda had a height of 5 m/16.5 ft and a diameter of 14 m/46 ft).
Robert Fulton (1765–1815), the American inventor of steamships, collaborated on A View of London and Lord Howe's Naval Victory over the French, and then took the invention to Paris where he ceded his rights to an American couple, Mr and Mrs James Thayer. They built two rotundas (of 17 m/56 ft diameter) in Montmartre, the first panoramas there being A View of Paris and The Evacuation of Toulon by the British in 1793 in 1800. Among the painters of these newer, larger panoramas were Pierre Prévost, Charles M Bouton, and Louis Daguerre, who later collaborated with Bouton on the diorama.
Technical developments The panorama and the diorama – together with the ‘eidophusikon’ of Philippe de Loutherbourg – are now considered the forerunners of cinema. More immediately, Daguerre's preoccupations with scenery, movement, light, and optical effects paved the way for his researches in photography.
Always seeking a greater illusion of reality, artists came to incorporate real objects into their shows, the spectators' stand also becoming part of the scene. Intermediate objects were continued into the painting, skill and lighting rendering the transition from real to painted object imperceptible. In William Horner's panorama at the Coliseum, Regent's Park, London, in 1829, spectators viewed a panorama of the city of London from an architectural lantern that simulated the view from the dome of St Paul's. Colonel Langlois, operating in the Rue de Marais, Paris, in 1830, with a large panorama of 35 m/115 ft in diameter, bought part of a ship which had seen service at Navarino, placed his audience on deck, and re-enacted the battle, complete with smoke and the stench of gunpowder.
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A narrative scene or landscape painted on a large canvas, which was either hung up around the walls of a circular room or slowly unrolled...