Cyclorama visit, Atlanta, October 2015.
In October members from the Augusta CWRT paid a visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama. We went at the invitation of Gordon Jones who is currently overseeing the plan to close the present installation and move the historic painting/artifact to the Atlanta History Center.
The Cyclorama depicts the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, and is currently located at its own facility in Grant's Park, Atlanta. The painting weighs nine tons and measures 42 feet tall and 365 feet in circumference. It is officially titled "The Battle of Atlanta," and is among the world's largest paintings; it is one of only two of comparable size in the United States. The other American cyclorama, depicting the Battle of Gettysburg, is in the Gettysburg National Military Park.
In the 19th century circular paintings of famous scenes and events were popular attractions in Europe and the US; they drew large crowds and earned an income for enterprising owners. Irish painter Robert Baker is credited with being the inventor who understood artistic perspectives and created paintings designed to create an "immersion" experience for the viewer. The paintings required some careful work to install, but could be rolled up and moved among various locations. They were the 3D movies of that time.
Experienced German mural artists were recruited by the American William Wehner in 1883 to make this Atlanta circular painting. The Republican Illinois senator John A. Logan, who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 1884 and was rumored to be a candidate for the presidential nomination in 1888, was an influential patron and his involvement in the actual battle helped make this battle scene one chosen for illustration.
In the summer of 1885,twenty years after the war, histories of the battle were in print, and the artists received technical advice from Union and Confederate veterans, and from Theodore Davis, a wartime illustrator for who had followed General William T. Sherman's armies. With trench lines outside Atlanta still extant,the artists fixed as the point of reference a site just inside Union lines at the Georgia Railroad, running eastward from the city. From a forty-foot tower they studied the terrain and sketched layouts. After several months on site, they returned to their Milwaukee studio, where, supervised by F. W. Heine and August Lohr, the artists completed the painting.
The painting was completed in 1887, and was moved around the country and exhibited in various cities; it was first on display in Atlanta in 1892, and seems to have stayed in the city from that date. Resale to various owners led to its purchase by Atlanta businessman George V. Gress, who donated the painting to the city in March 1898 after providing it with housing in Grant Park.
The painting has aged, suffered damage and had restorations at various times; in 1982 the installation was modified with the addition of a tiered seating platform that slowly rotated while a narrative was played.
In 2012 it was estimated it would require $8 million to restore the painting. Various plans were proposed, but the final choice was to move the painting to a specially designed building at the Atlanta History Center. The History Center will replace pieces of canvas removed at various times, and will return the exhibit to the original historical display as a 360 degree immersion painting, recreating the three dimensional illusion that was intended in the original design. They will not replace revolving seating platform.
At the time of our visit, the foreground figures of soldiers, guns, and wagons have been removed, and the work of restoring the canvas is about to begin. It will be restored on site at Grant's Park, then moved only once, to its new home at the Atlanta History Center when its new home is at the point where the painting can be installed. The move is anticipated to happen in 2016. Once the painting is at its new home, the restoration work will continue and visitors to the museum will be able to observe the continuing work of restoration as it progresses.
While most Georgians know about the Cyclorama as a depiction of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, it was a surprise to learn that the painting is a rare historic artifact, one of very few to survive to the present day. It has a direct historical connection to the Civil War as its design and layout was the result of large contributions by those who participated in and survived the battle.
For full details about the Cyclorama's history and recent events:
Plans for restoration.
Atlanta History Center
Cyclorama visit, Atlanta, October 2015.