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Dead medium: the Panorama
From: Bruce Sterling
Source(s): he Panorama Phenomenon: Mesdag Panorama 1881- 1981
Published by the Foundation for the Preservation of the
Centenarian Mesdag Panorama (September 1981)
Den Haag, Holland
editor Evelyn J. Fruitema
written by Paul A. Zoetmulder
Mesdag Panorama, Zeestraat 65b, 2518AA The Hague

(((The justly famed Mesdag Panorama in Den Haag is one of

the best-preserved examples of this dead form of

nineteenth-century virtuality. THE PANORAMA PHENOMENON is

an illustrated English-language historiography associated

with the exhibit, with extensive notes on Hendrik Willem

Mesdag's own panorama of Old Scheveningen, and on the

panorama in general.)))

page 13

"An anecdote has it that in the year 1785 a young Irish

painter in Edinburgh landed in prison because he could

give no satisfaction to his creditors. He was the painter

and draughtsman Robert Barker who, confined in his prison

cell, perhaps through sheer boredom, accidentally invented

the panorama. His extremely uncomfortable quarters were

situated in a basement, and the sparse daylight entered

through a narrow opening in the ceiling, very near the

wall, and so lighted up the vertical wall just underneath.

"Barker will not have had much contact with the world

outside, but once he did receive a letter which gave him

inspiration. He could only decipher the letter by holding

it up against the dimly lit wall. The incidence of light

from above on the letter, observed by Barker in the dark

gaol, apparently presented such a peculiar effect, that it

occurred to the civil debtor to illuminate paintings in a

similar way.(...)

"The patent obtained by him in 1787 defined this

conclusively. The fact that he applied for a patent is

typical. It may well be the first manifestation of the

systematic mixture of art and technology. (...)

"In 1787 he brought an unusual picture to Londin,

unusual both for its size and form; a large oblong semi-

circular canvas depicting a *View of Edinburgh.* Compared

to his later work, it was only an initial effort to create

what he described a little later in his patent application

as a 'View of Nature' (La Nature a Coup d'Oeil). In the

artistic community his first effort had no success

whatsoever. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the President of the

Royal Society, advised Barker courteously but explicitly

to stop his useless experimenting, an advice completely

disregared by the modernist. His invention was patented

on the 3rd of July 1787.

"He defined his invention: 'An entire new contrivance

or apparatus, which I call La Nature a Coup d'Oeil, for

the purpose of displaying views of Nature at large by Oil

Painting, Fresco, Water Colours, Crayons, or any other

mode of painting or drawing."

"The word *panorama* does not figure in the patent.

(...) It is reported that the term would have been

introduced by a classical scholar among his friends. At

any rate, Barker himself mentions the word *panorama* in

1792 in an advertisement in *The Times.* Henceforth it

quickly became the definite style for a circular picture."