The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World
Exhibition Opening: Summer 2018
The Whaling Museum will premiere a spectacular exhibition highlighting the newly conserved The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World in summer 2018! The show will feature the largest painting in the United States, the 1,275’ authentic and arresting depiction of a 19th century whaling voyage. Painted by two New Bedford artists, the Panorama traveled the United States between the 1850s and 1870s as a moving picture show. A masterwork of American folk art and one of the last remaining grand moving panoramas, at 8 feet high, the Panorama would have originally been shown scrolling in front of a paying audience over the course of two hours with an accompanying narrative and music program. Mounted on four massive spools, the show would have included several intermissions to change out the sections, which start in New Bedford Harbor and traveled the seas in search of whales. The audience experienced the world as seen through the eyes of a Yankee whaler, from New Bedford to the Azores, Cape Verde, and on to the Pacific.
After years of this style of performance, the Panorama suffered paint loss and tears, which have since been stabilized and repaired. In order not to undo the great work the Museum has just completed, the Panorama will be displayed statically in future installations, where the audience, not the Panorama, will move. However, visitors will experience the theatrical public spectacle of the moving panorama craze through a life-sized digital replica of The Grand Panorama on a facsimile of the original display mechanism, while enjoying the monumental original Panorama in the same exhibition hall. New research will inform a recreated narrative as well as interactive displays to enhance learning, entertainment, and engagement.
The Panorama contains broad content related to history, industry, and geography, and conveys themes of globalization, cultural diversity, popular literature, and visual culture. The exhibition will debut in New Bedford, Mass. in 2018, and then go on the road as it did over a century ago, to delight and entertain audiences around the country.
The Panorama exhibition is supported by Ruth & Hope Atkinson, as well as by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.