The Original: A Spectacle In Motion: The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World - New Bedford Whaling Museum

A Spectacle in Motion: The Original

The exhibition presented America’s longest painting – longer than the Empire State Building is tall.

The Original: A Spectacle In Motion: The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World

Kilburn Mill

Opened: April 14, 2021

Closing: October 8, 2021

The-Original

The exhibition presented America’s longest painting – longer than the Empire State Building is tall. All 1,275 feet of the Panorama was on exhibit to awe visitors. This was the first time in generations that the entire Panorama could be seen by the public.

Photo of "The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World" by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington.

Set amidst an historic textile mill in New Bedford, visitors were able to travel around the world and back in time without ever leaving the city. The exhibition also featured interpretive panels and kiosks to enrich the context and content of the Panorama. (Free and open to the public, 7 days a week with shuttle service between the Museum and Kilburn Mill, 127 West Rodney French Blvd., New Bedford)

The Panorama is a maritime artwork of national historical importance, authentically depicting a whaling voyage originating from the port of New Bedford in the mid-19th century. It was painted in 1848, by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, who traveled it around the country as a commercial enterprise.

The panorama as a form of public entertainment was developed in Europe in the late 18th century and subsequently made its way to the United States after demonstrating its commercial potential to an armchair traveler audience. A “panorama” as defined by Robert Barker, who patented this exhibition style, means “all view.” He felt that spectators should feel like they were “really on the very spot,” that they should feel as if they were part of the scene in a surrogate reality, an imaginary “Grand Tour” of the world.

In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s (proceeding the age of cinema) the Panorama was designed and performed as a moving panorama, a form of entertainment where multiple scrolls moved across a stage similar to how a reel-to-reel film would later be shown. After years on display, the wear and tear on the 170-year old painting was so extensive that it was deemed worthless and impossible to conserve.

After decades of conservation planning and method strategy research, the Museum brought this national treasure back to life and is proud to share it with the public. However, due to the extensive conservation efforts that have been invested into the painting, it will no longer be shown in its original format – as a moving panorama – as this would undo the extensive work recently completed.

The Panorama drew crowds in the era of public entertainment before moving pictures and films. To celebrate this origin, the exhibition was coupled with dynamic and engaging programming. Live performances, contemporary artistic presentations, and other unique interpretations accompanied educational programs and cultural celebrations.

Scene of the Azores from the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World

A MUSICAL FINALE

A free musical performance, open to the public, was held on the last weekend of the exhibition at Kilburn Mill. Tom O’Leary and Simon Xerxes White performed original music to accompany the whalemen’s journey depicted in the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World. A special 22-minute video of the Panorama in motion formed a backdrop for the performance.

Through music, Tom and Simon captured a spark of historic New Bedford’s pioneering and steadfastly adventurous spirit. Music lightened and propelled the lives of whaling folk. During voyages like the one depicted in the Grand Panorama, home-spun shanties would entertain and sooth sailors at sea, and in their dangerous journeys sailors would have encountered music of far-flung cultures, not to mention sounds of nature and the ever-changing seas.

Old Fashioned Type with the words: Amazing! Wow! Thrilling!

Just How BIG is the Panorama?

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington is 1,275 feet long. That is ¼ acre of fabric!

Compare with the Panorama to: The Empire State Building; The Eiffel Tower; The Statue of Liberty1 Panorama equals =

14 Blue Whales
17 Lagodas
28 School Buses

Compare the Panorama to:

  • The Empire State Building
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • The Statue of Liberty

More About the Panorama

On View Exhibit

A Spectacle in Motion: The Experience. Watch the Panorama scroll by in a life-sized digital format projected in a full theatrical setting.

Online Exhibit

Explore the digital version of The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World with expanded access to the history and narratives.

Audio Tour

Dive deeper into the scenes and stories told throughout the Panorama. Walk the Panorama and the tour takes you around the world through the eyes of a whaler.

Exhibition Catalog

This two-volume publication dives into the detail and narrative of the Panorama and allows people to quite literally hold the entire artwork in the palm of their hands.

Conservation Spotlight

Created when giant paintings unrolled in front of a paying audience, this Panorama survives as a nationally important artifact of American culture.

WGBH News

Restoring North America’s Longest Painting by Bob Seay, January 5, 2018.

AP News

A whale’s tale: Longest painting in North America restored b

Press Release

New Bedford Whaling Museum awarded $180,000 for restoration of famous panorama – America’s longest painting by Gayle Hargreaves