A Spectacle in Motion: The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World
July 14, 2018 @ 9:00 am - October 8, 2018 @ 5:00 pm
See America’s longest painting – longer than the Empire State Building is tall. All 1,275 feet of the Panorama is currently on exhibit to awe visitors. This is the first time in generations that the entire Panorama can be seen by the public. Set amidst an historic textile mill in New Bedford, visitors are able to travel around the world and back in time without ever leaving the city. The exhibition also features interpretive panels and kiosks to enrich the context and content of the Panorama. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is free and open to the public, open during normal Museum hours through Columbus Day.
The Panorama is a maritime artwork of national historical importance, authentically depicting a whaling voyage originating from the port of New Bedford in the mid-19th century. It was painted in 1848, by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, who traveled it around the country as a commercial enterprise. The panorama as a form of public entertainment was developed in Europe in the late 18th century and subsequently made its way to the United States after demonstrating its commercial potential to an armchair traveler audience. A “panorama” as defined by Robert Barker, who patented this exhibition style, means “all view.” He felt that spectators should feel like they were “really on the very spot,” that they should feel as if they were part of the scene in a surrogate reality, an imaginary “Grand Tour” of the world. This is precisely what visitors will experience.
In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s (proceeding the age of cinema) the Panorama was designed and performed as a moving panorama, a form of entertainment where multiple scrolls moved across a stage similar to how a reel-to-reel film would later be shown. After years on display, the wear and tear on the 170-year old painting was so extensive that it was deemed worthless and impossible to conserve. After decades of conservation planning and method strategy research, the Museum brought this national treasure back to life and is proud to share it with the public. However, due to the extensive conservation efforts that have been invested into the painting, it will no longer be shown in its original format – as a moving panorama – as this would undo the extensive work recently completed.
The Panorama drew crowds in the era of public entertainment before moving pictures and films. To celebrate this origin, the exhibition is coupled with dynamic and engaging programming all summer long. Live performances, contemporary artistic presentations, and other unique interpretations accompany educational programs and cultural celebrations.
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