Civic Visions: The Panorama and Popular Amusement in American Art and Society, 1845-1870

Author: ORCID icon
Oliver, Christopher, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McInnis, Maurie, Department of Art, University of Virginia

Though now often overlooked, moving panoramas were one of the most viewed forms of American visual art in the middle of the nineteenth century. Whether it was across the Atlantic, down the Mississippi, or into the Arctic Circle, moving panorama exhibitions relied on the effect of virtual travel to engage the viewer in what was typically a two-hour performance, intent on edifying its participants. When viewed as a collection of static images the painted panorama appeared with many of the same formal conventions of contemporary landscape painting, but as a spectacle it allowed for its audience to consider any political or social tensions evoked by the showman. The group experience of public amusements, along with their associated ephemera—pamphlets, engravings, and notices in the press—framed the panoramas in a variety of conversations: about religion, scientific discovery, national expansion, and the viability of slavery within the United States. Their adaptation in domestic settings allowed for a disparate and unsure audience to coalesce around shared values. These works have often been examined as marginal forms of popular entertainment that were simply emulative of the interests of landscape painting. Instead, this dissertation argues that the consumption of these exhibitions by the American populace allowed them to publicly declare their values through the didactic entertainments they embraced, as well as those they eschewed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
panorama, american art
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