Friday, January 4, 2013

Cyclorama in Gettysburg

The inconvenient Civil War did cause Atlanta trauma,
And I relive it everyday down at the cyclorama.
Kyle often quotes the beginning of this poem and used it for the title of his blog post of August 2011.

Begun in the late of 18th century, the cyclorama became very popular by the late 19th century.  A massive painting was installed in a round or hexagonal building. The viewers entered to platform in the center and were immersed in an exotic location or historic event.  One can see why the birth of motion pictures saw the decline of this type of art, but at one time almost every major city had one.  There were hundreds painted.

Most have been neglected or destroyed. Atlanta's is on display in Grant Park and depicts the Civil War's Battle for Atlanta.  This morning I visited my second of some 40 that are still displayed.  This is Paul Phillopteaux's depiction of the battle on the 3rd and final day of fighting in Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.  Commonly called Pickett's Charge the battle snatched victory from the hands of Robert E. Lee and is usually seen as the turning point toward victory for the Union.

Four stories tall and longer than a football field in circumference, the works is enhanced by a diorama at the base of the painting which brings forward beneath the viewing platform.  Dramatic narration enhanced with sound and lighting explain the events of this epic battle.

The 2008 125 million dollar visitors center provides a 22 minute multimedia experience summarizing the Battle of Gettysburg, its importance in the war, U.S. History and the evolution of human rights.  Following the film you the cyclorama is entered by escalator.

Here on the 3rd day of the sesquicentennial year of the battle, I was treated to a private viewing.  Kyle stayed in the car with Koda.  It's his turn next time.  And there will be a next time.  With a little preparation and review, this wonderful introduction and a great iPad app we set off on the Auto Tour.

The weather was magnificently clear and the whole day a memorable and moving experience.

More on the battlefield later.

UPDATE:  Thanks to my friend Jim Schnellinger for information on the Buffalo Cyclorama.

The structure was saved from the wrecking ball and re-purposed several times, but its history starts with the Buffalo Cyclorama Company.

Overseas, in Europe, architectural achievements like The Eiffel Tower were on their way to completion, and new technology and advancements were being made. The end of the nineteenth century was coming to a close and the fast-paced industrial age that was the twentieth century was drawing nearer. 
This meant new forms of entertainment were coming into existence, for although radio, movies and television had not yet been invented and traveling was limited, people were still looking for interesting ways to pass the time. One such idea was referred to as a "cyclorama" and it basically sought to bring places and events that the average person would never get to experience otherwise right into their hometown. 
An artist would research and visit places around the world, then come home and paint a giant, panoramic view of what he had found. The painting was then hung for the public to view and experience. In 1888, when Buffalo was a bustling town on the brink of becoming a major city, The Buffalo Cyclorama company, which was the first institution to act on this idea of experiencing a world away from one's own, commissioned a French painter to make a 400 foot long and 50 foot wide canvas of Niagara Falls, Buffalo's own natural wonder. The painting was exhibited in Paris, France, and London, England, to help promote the grandeur of Niagara Falls. It was such a success that the Buffalo Cyclorama Company decided to bring an exhibit like it onto American soil.
Buffalo's Cyclorama building first displayed "The Crucifixion of Christ," a German painting and then one of the 4 paintings of "The Battle of Gettysburg" by Phillopteaux.

This was probably the 1st version of the paining.  Originally produced for display in Chicago, it toured 8 cities before returning to Chicago in 1933.  Currently not on display it is in the possession of an anonymous group in Raleigh, NC, purchased in 2007 for an unknown amount.  The second version was originally produced for display in  Boston.  This is the version currently displayed in Gettysburg.  The 3rd version is known to have been destroyed and the fate of the 4th is unknown.  If you have a very large attic, you might want to check it out.  Atlanta's cyclorama painting weighs 5 tons.

1 comment:

  1. Neil, I have enjoyed both the cyclorama in Gettysburg and Atlanta and found them both to be fabulous! What a way to learn history!! So glad you had the chance this time in Gettysburg!