Restoration of the World’s Longest Painting is on Its Way
Through the generosity of the Stockman Family Foundation and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities the Museum is moving forward on a long-awaited project, the restoration of the 1848 Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World. One of the Museum’s iconic artifacts, the Purrington-Russell Panorama, is believed to be the longest painting in the world. Although such a claim is difficult to prove, at 1,295 long (and eight and a half feet tall) it is a reasonable belief, particularly given that the few other surviving works of this ilk only hundreds of feet long feet are often touted as among the longest.
Created when giant paintings unrolled in front of a paying audience were a common form of popular entertainment, this Panorama not only documents details about whaling and the maritime world of the mid 19th century, but also survives as a nationally important artifact of American culture. It illustrates like no other document the path of expanding hegemony of the United States through the intersection and injection of American commerce worldwide into remote and exotic ports and landfalls.
Created by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington in 1848, this Panorama has been displayed in a host of venues – from a national tour when it was created to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was donated to the Museum in 1918 and was displayed for many years. However, one can easily imagine what a century and a half of rolling, unrolling, display, and light can do to deteriorate nearly a quarter-mile of painted cotton sheeting. It has not been exhibited in its entirety for more than 50 years, and the Museum thanks Mystic Seaport for kindly storing this monstrous painting over the past year as we develop plans for its next step.
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the Whaling Museum showcased one of the novel’s most compelling sources of inspiration – The Panorama – in the Special Exhibition Gallery. More about The Panorama Exhibition can be found here.
Several preliminary studies of the panorama were completed over the years, ably led by former Conservator Robert Hauser. With funding now in place the Museum can assemble an advisory team, hire a consulting curator whose specialty aligns with this project, and move forward with development of a formal treatment protocol that will clearly test and define each step of the restoration process. With these pieces in places restoration can begin. The Museum continues to seek funding for restoration of the full panorama, and this grant gets us a huge step in the right direction to again make it accessible to scholars and visitors.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.