Popular around the world


People the world over never tire of Panoramas.

Panoramas – with historical references back to 1791 – are not a new phenomenon.

The International Panorama Council (IPC) in its wonderful publication – The Panorama Phenomenon (2006) – tracks historical use of the word ‘panorama’ back to 1791 in an advertisement for a ‘panoramic exhibition’ in London, England.

Since that time, entrepreneurs and artists have continued to experiment with the impact of quality art on circular canvas with all kinds of embellishments, from lighting and music to static floor displays quite seamless in connection to the panorama.

Irish artist and painter Robert Barker is acknowledged as the ‘inventor’ of the panorama painting – while serving time in an Edinburgh debtors’ prison.

His inspiration came when he received a letter that he could only read by holding it up against the light in the poorly lit cell. The magical effect of the light on the letter gave him the idea to light up his paintings in the same way.

On release from prison, he was sketching on a hill on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland, and was taken by the far-reaching, impressive views. As an arts teacher, he was already experimenting with techniques to improve perspective – and he was no stranger to technical innovation.

In 1787, Barker exhibited a large, elongated, panorama of Edinburgh on a semi-circular canvas in London. It was his first painting in a series of works he described in his patent as a true reflection of nature. His patent for the panorama concept was awarded on July 3, 1787.

The art of panorama painting continued to evolve, and during the latter half of the 19th century it required special techniques and immense stamina when canvas surfaces of 1500 to 2000 square metres were not uncommon.

With the advent of photography in the second half of the 19th century, the panorama phenomenon was rediscovered. Scenes from historic wars and great battles became very popular. Standardisation of the canvases to a length of about 115 metres and height of 15 metres meant that panorama paintings could even be exchanged and shown in different venues.

Modern electronic media has changed the face of visual entertainment for ever – movie theatres, digital television, computers and many other amazing devices stimulate the senses of people from all nations and vocational backgrounds.

However, quality panoramas boast that special human ‘creative’ element and demand attention.

The Panorama Phenomenon acknowledges 26 noteworthy Panoramas around the world. From The Jerusalem Panorama of the Cruxification of Christ at Altotting, Germany, and The Gettysburg Cyclorama, Gettysburg, USA; to the Panorama of the Battle of Jinan at Jinan, China, and Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, in a purpose-built building on Norfolk Island, all are outstanding attractions of great quality.

The Wilpena Panorama at Hawker, South Australia, with superb images of the Flinders Ranges, is the only other regional listing in the book. The Big Picture Panorama at Broken Hill has been very successful and attracts plenty of tourist interest with its sweeping images of the outback. Unfortunately, another popular outback creation at Alice Springs – Panorama Guth – was lost to fire some years ago.

Aitken’s Australia in the Round Panorama at Glenbrook is already attracting considerable international attention. It is an outstanding addition to the tourist attractions of the Blue Mountains of NSW.