Portland Museum of Art
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The Grand Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress
Prior to the advent of motion pictures, large painted canvases traveled to communities throughout the nation as a form of entertainment. From November 4, 1999 through January 2, 2000, the Portland Museum of Art will showcase one of the most popular moving panoramas of its time, in the exhibition "The Grand Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress." Recently rediscovered, the panorama, painted in 1850-51, depicts John Bunyan's religious allegory "Pilgrim's Progress." The "Panorama of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress" is making its first return to Portland in 154 years.
Left to right: They Beheld the Fate of the Apostle, Design Attributed to Joseph Kyle and Courtney Selous, York Institute Museum, Saco, Maine, Gift of the Heirs of Luther Bryant, 1896; Land of Beulah, Design attributed to Jasper Cropsey, York Institute Museum, Saco, Maine, Gift of the Heirs of Luther Bryant, 1896; They Arrive at the Delectable Mountains (right two images), Design attributed to Joseph Kyle and Edward Harrison May, York Institute Museum, Saco, Maine, Gift of the Heirs of Luther Bryant, 1896.
In its entirety, "Panorama of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress" was an eight-foot high by 850-foot long canvas mounted on wooden rollers that unfurled the painting in 15 to 30 foot sections. Each viewing of the panorama was approximately two hours long and featured music and a lecturer as a tour guide. Shown in meeting houses and barns, the panorama is believed to have been viewed by more than 100,000 people during its first year. Painted by theatrical painters Joseph Kyle and Jacob Dallas, many of the compositions in the panorama are attributed to leading artists of the day, including Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, and Daniel Huntington. Unlike the detailed painting of the time, panoramas were painted with large brush strokes in garish colors meant to be viewed from 30 feet away.
"Pilgrim's Progress" is a 17th-century morality tale written by Puritan preacher John Bunyan, and was at the time the most popular book next to the Bible. It is a traditional tale of good versus evil in which the characters, Christian and Christiana, travel through such unappealing places as the Slough of Despond, the Valley of the Shadows of Death, and the Cave of the Giant Despair to eventual salvation in the beautiful Celestial City.
In the late 18th century, the term "panorama" was coined to refer to a circular painting that surrounded the viewer invented by Irish artist Robert Barker. Barker, who was living in Scotland at the time, painted a 360 degree view from the top of Edinburgh's famed Carlton Hill in 1785, creating the first panorama. Panoramas were first exhibited in New York City in 1795, but it was not until 1846 that panoramas really took off, as the members of an emerging middle class, with leisure time and disposable income, flocked to this popular entertainment. Panoramic scenes of Niagara Falls, the Mississippi River, the Hudson River as seen from the deck of a steamboat, the cliffs of the Palisades, and the Highlands at West Point were popular themes.
Although the "Panorama of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress" was given to the York Institute in Saco, Maine in October of 1896, the painting was gradually forgotten. In 1996, the painting was rediscovered in the basement of the Institute and sent to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts to be cleaned and repaired. A 500 foot section of the panorama has traveled from the Montclair Museum, New Jersey (January 21 through May 2, 1999), and will travel to the Portland Museum of Art (November 4 through January 2, 1999), and the Wichita State Museum (January 21 through March 7, 2000).
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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