Here’s what happened.
After several attempts to find permanent space for the world’s largest painting, it was brought reluctantly to the only place that could claim it as home. On February 22, 1892, The Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama came to the city that had inspired its creation.
The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum is now a cultural treasure that hosts thousands of visitors. As the USA observes the sesquicentennial of its Civil War, it should attract even greater numbers in coming years.
Here’s why it mattered then.
According to one source, a cyclorama was “a panoramic painting on the inside of a cylindrical platform, designed to provide a viewer standing in the middle of the cylinder with a 360° view of the painting. The intended effect is to make a viewer, surrounded by the panoramic image, feel as if they were standing in the midst of a historic event or famous place.”
Robert Barker designed the first cyclorama painting and building in 1787, a hilltop view of Edingburgh, Scotland. One of the most famous of several cycloramas that depicted Civil War events was the Battle of Gettysburg, designed by the French artist Paul Phillipoteaux.
Here’s why it matters now.
The Atlanta Cyclorama depicts a key battle in The Atlanta Campaign. A team of artists working for the American Panorama Company created it in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during 1885-86, under the direction of Frederich Wilheim Heine, August Lohr, and noted Civil War artist Theodore Davis. John A. Logan, who had commanded Union troops at the battle, commissioned it to promote his candidacy for U.S. Vice President. Logan died before its completion.
Efforts to find a U.S. city to host the painting began in Detroit in 1887. It moved through Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and several owners before being brought to Atlanta’s Grant Park by George Valentine Gress and Charles Northern. Local folks were at best indifferent to an exhibit commemorating the prelude to General Sherman’s infamous visit.
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The Cyclorama slowly grew in popularity. Its current location was built in 1921. During 1934-36, artists sponsored by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) created plastic figures of soldiers for a diorama that became a foreground for the painting. After Clark Cable praised the Cyclorama during his visit to Atlanta in 1939, a figure with his likeness was added to the diorama.
Only two of the original four Gettysburg cycloramas survive. The Atlanta Cyclorama benefited from an $11 million restoration project during 1979-81. Its title for size was held until 2004.
. . . And here’s an interesting fact!
One of the Cyclorama’s previous owners had brought it to Atlanta as part of a traveling circus. The circus failed financially and left town quickly, but the Cyclorama and the animals remained. Gress purchased the animals and gave them to the City of Atlanta, which combined them with a menagerie donated by the legendary philanthropist Asa Candler. The result of that initiative is now known as Zoo Atlanta.