Moving Panoramas by Water

19th century special effects from the moving panorama London to Hong Kong in Two Hours. The fabric behind the moon was removed so that when the scroll was backlit with a candle, the moon would be illuminated. Image used with permission, thank you David Brill.

Traveling by water was a popular moving panorama theme. The audience could sit back and imagine they were traveling along the Mississippi River or the St. Lawrence.  They may "travel" to exotic lands such as the Arctic!

To add thrills and chills, 19th century special effects were employed. One of the most common was an illuminated moon, as seen in the picture above in the London to Hong Kong  moving panorama. A storm at sea was another crowd pleaser.  Hand-cranked wind machines and sheets of metal were used to create wind and thunder.

There are many examples. I have gathered up a few of my favorites below.

The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley

Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art at the St. Louis Art Museum, points out some details of the Mississippi panorama to members of the International Panorama Council, Jan. 2015.

The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley was painted by John Egan around 1850. He used distemper on cotton muslin and it measures 90 in. x 348 ft.

The moving panorama was commissioned by the amateur archaeologist Wilson Dickeson (1810–1882). It is the only surviving panorama of the Mississippi River. This topic  was so popular that there were six different moving panoramas touring at one time.

The scroll is made up of twenty-five scenes focusing on the the history of the Mississippi River Valley.   Egan sought to keep the audience's attention by including storms, snow, a tornado, and a rainbow—which he executed with dramatic lighting effects and possibly sound effects.

It is housed at the St. Louis Art Museum.  They have restored and filmed the panorama. Watch the video below!


The moving panorama is housed at the St. Louis Art Museum where they restored and filmed it.


The audience viewed the panorama from a huge replica ship that rocked back and forth my means of hydraulic cylinders. This illustration appeared in Scientific American Magazine in 1900.

One of the most spectacular moving panoramas was Mareorama - a sea voyage from Marseille to Yokohama and performed at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The audience viewed the canvases from a 230 foot long replica ship.  The enormous canvases (2,460 feet long and 42 feet high) wrapped around the ship on both sides.

The moving panorama scrolls did not survive however other information did: advertisements, reviews, souvenirs, music, illustrations of the scrolls and information about the creator Hugo d' Alesi.

Professor Erkki Huhtamo gathered up all those threads and wove them together to create an illustrated lecture in the video below. This story is an example of truth being stranger than fiction!

Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World

A rare opportunity to see a 19th century moving panorama exhibited. Image used with permission.

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World is the longest surviving moving panorama. At 1,275 feet in length and 8 1/2 feet high, it's also the largest painting in America. Painted in 1848 by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington, it takes the spectator on a whaling voyage around the world, beginning in New Bedford, MA.

The moving panorama has recently been restored by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, a Herculean task! It's now on display until Oct. 8th, 2018 at the Kilburn Mill in New Bedford.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is also exhibiting a digital copy of the panorama along with many other related artifacts. Check out their website for the schedule of activities.


View of the North Coast of Spitzbergen. From the collection of Russell A. Potter, photo copyright 2004. Used with permission. Thank you Russell Potter!
Artic Spectacles, The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875 by Russell A. Potter.

Arctic exploration was a popular theme. One event that contribted to its popularity was the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition in the mid 19th century, the most sensational story of the day. Two great sailing ships carrying 129 men, sailed from England to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage and were never heard from again. The  search continued over many years inspiring artists to create moving panoramas to tell the stories.

There were more than 20 moving panoramas devoted to Arctic exploration. Sadly, none of the scrolls survived. The engraving above is a program key to the North Coast of Spitzenbergen, a stationary (not cranked), 360 degree panorama that was displayed in 1819/20. This gives us a glimpse of what the moving panoramas might have looked like.

Another way to get a better understanding of these moving panoramas is to explore the writings of Russell A. Potter who has spent decades reseaching stories and collecting Victorian era Arctic artifacts. His book, Arctic Spectacles, is a fascinating read about moving panoramas of the day and lists all the known Arctic moving panoramas in chronological order. Visit his blog Visions of the North.

And There's More!

Much more! But alas, I need to finish this page and move on to my next crankie adventure! I leave you with a few more links. I don't have permission to post the images (or the time to request permission right now) but I can post the links, and they are good ones! Enjoy!

Key to the Eidophusikon or Moving Diorama of Venice -Views of Venice as seen from a passing gondola. 1841.  Thank you to the Univ. of Maryland for posting the wonderful image and description for all to see!

The Bay and Harbor of New York  - A fragment of this moving panorama survives. It's the concluding scene and it is housed at the Museum of the City of New York. Painted by Samuel B. Waugh, 1855.

Bayne's Original Gigantic Series of Panoramas - Voyage to Europe -A handbill from a moving panorama performance, 1849. From Brown University Library.

Special thanks to Suzanne Wray, moving panorama historian, for sending me the last two examples!❤

Sue Truman - This page was created in 2018.