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Gettysburg Cyclorama

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The Battle of Gettysburg (detail)
Paul Philippoteaux - Gettysburg Cyclorama.jpg
Artist Paul Philippoteaux
Year 1883
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 13 m × 115 m (42 ft × 377 ft)
Location Museum and Visitor Center, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg, also known as the Gettysburg Cyclorama, is a cyclorama painting by the French artist Paul Philippoteaux depicting Pickett's Charge, the climactic Confederate attack on the Union forces during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Four versions were painted, only one original remains in Gettysburg, the Wake Forest version being an elaborate copy, they are the only surviving Gettysburg cycloramas in the United States.[1]

The first version of the painting, completed in 1883 and originally exhibited in Chicago, was lost. It was thought to have been rediscovered in 1965 and a painting was purchased by a group of North Carolina investors in 2007 for an undisclosed amount. The version they discovered was actually a copy by one E.J. Austen who assisted Paul Philippoteaux on the originals. Until November 2005, the second painting, originally exhibited in the Cyclorama Building in Boston, was on display at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was removed for restoration work[2] and the exhibition was reopened September 2008 in the new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center. The third version, exhibited in Philadelphia, is known to have been destroyed. The location of the fourth version, originally exhibited in Brooklyn, is unknown.


The painting is the work of French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux. It depicts Pickett's Charge, the failed infantry assault that was the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg. The painting is a cyclorama, a type of 360° cylindrical painting. The intended effect is to immerse the viewer in the scene being depicted, often with the addition of foreground models and life-sized replicas to enhance the illusion. Among the sites documented in the painting are Cemetery Ridge, the Angle, and the "High-water mark of the Confederacy".[1] The completed original painting was 22 feet (6.7 m) high and 279 feet (85 m) in circumference.[3] The version that hangs in Gettysburg, a recent (2005) restoration of the version created for Boston, is 42 feet (13 m) high and 377 feet (115 m) in circumference.[1]

Details of the painting:


Philippoteaux painting the Gettysburg Cyclorama. The officer depicted on the far right, holding a sword in front of the tree, is an image of the artist, included in the painting as a hidden "signature".[4]

Philippoteaux became interested in cycloramas and, in collaboration with his father, created The Defence of the Fort d'Issy in 1871. Other successful works included Taking of Plevna (Turko-Russian War), the Passage of the Balkans, The Belgian Revolution of 1830, Attack in the Park, The Battle of Kars, The Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and the Derniere Sortie.[4] He was commissioned by a group of Chicago investors in 1879 to create the Gettysburg Cyclorama. He spent several weeks in April 1882 at the site of the Gettysburg Battlefield to sketch and photograph the scene, and extensively researched the battle and its events over several months. He erected a wooden platform along present-day Hancock Avenue and drew a circle around it, eighty feet in diameter, driving stakes into the ground to divide it into ten sections. Local photographer William H. Tipton took three photographs of each section, focusing in turn on the foreground, the land behind it, and the horizon. The photos, pasted together, formed the basis of the composition.[5] Philippoteaux also interviewed several survivors of the battle, including Union generals Winfield S. Hancock, Abner Doubleday, Oliver O. Howard, and Alexander S. Webb, and based his work partly on their recollections.[4]

Philippoteaux enlisted a team of five assistants, including his father until his death, to create the final work.[4] It took over a year and a half to complete.[1] The finished painting was nearly 100 yards long and weighed six tons.[3] When completed for display, the full work included not just the painting, but numerous artifacts and sculptures, including stone walls, trees, and fences.[1] The effect of the painting has been likened to the nineteenth century equivalent of an IMAX theater.[3]

Exhibition and reception[edit]

Ticket to the Boston exhibition of the Gettysburg Cyclorama.

The work opened to the public in Chicago on October 22, 1883, to critical acclaim.[4] General John Gibbon, one of the commanders of the Union forces who repelled Pickett's Charge, was among the veterans of the battle who gave it favorable reviews.[1] So realistic was the painting that many veterans of the war were reported to have wept upon seeing it.[6]

The Chicago exhibition was sufficiently successful to prompt businessman Charles L. Willoughby to commission a second version, which opened in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 22, 1884. From its opening until 1892, approximately 200,000 people viewed the painting.[4] The Boston version was housed in a specially designed building, the Cyclorama Building, on Tremont Street,[7] and was the site of popular public lectures on the battle.[1] Two additional copies of the cyclorama were made: the third was first exhibited in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning in February 1886 and a fourth debuted in Brooklyn, New York, in October 1886.[4]

Many reviewers and visitors agreed with the Boston Daily Advertiser that "it is impossible to tell where reality ends and the painting begins." One veteran, pointing at the painting, said to his friend: "You see that puff of smoke? Just wait a moment till that clears away, and I'll show you just where I stood." In New York, police responding to a report of a nighttime burglary and disoriented by the illusion twice seized dummies representing dead soldiers, convinced that they were live burglars.[5][6]

In 1894, Chase & Everhart displayed their "Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg" during a National Guard encampment at Gettysburg.[8]

Boston version[edit]

In 1891, the Boston cyclorama, housed in the Cyclorama Building, was exchanged temporarily with the cyclorama Crucifixion of Christ[9] in Philadelphia. When it returned in 1892, it was stored in a 50-foot (15 m) crate behind the exhibition hall, where it was subjected to damage from weather, vandals removing boards from the crate, and two fires. It was eventually purchased in its deteriorated state by Albert J. Hahne of Newark, New Jersey, in 1910. Hahne displayed sections of the cyclorama in his department store in Newark beginning in 1911, and sections were also shown in government buildings in New York City, Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. In the Baltimore exhibition, George E. Pickett's widow, "Sallie" Pickett, lectured on her husband's experiences and found herself very moved by the experience.[4]

Original Cyclorama building on Baltimore Street.
Former Cyclorama building in Ziegler's Grove. The building was demolished in March 2013.[10][11]
Interior view of the Gettysburg Cyclorama in the former, Neutra building location

On September 3, 1912, ground was broken for a new cyclorama building on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, on Cemetery Hill (on the site of the present day Holiday Inn), near the entrance to the Soldiers' National Cemetery. It opened to the public in 1913, in time for the 50th anniversary of the battle, once again displayed as a full circular painting, rather than in sections. The unheated, leaky brick building took a further toll on the condition of the painting. The Boston cyclorama was purchased by the National Park Service in 1942, and moved to a site on Ziegler's Grove near the new Visitor's Center in 1961, after a second round of restoration.[4]

The exhibition remained open to the public until 2005, when it was closed for a third restoration.[1] The $12-million restoration, by Olin Conservation, Inc., of Great Falls, Virginia, started with the 26 sections of the painting and recreated its original shape of 14 panels hung from a circular railing, slightly flared out at the bottom. In the process, some original pieces were found of the 12 circumferential feet that had been cut away. Fourteen vertical feet of sky was also restored.[7]

The painting restoration was accompanied by the construction of a facility to house the painting, the new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center on Hunt Avenue, located away from any areas in which fighting occurred in 1863. The restored Cyclorama exhibition was reopened to the public in September 2008. The proposed demolition of the old Cyclorama building in Ziegler's Grove was a source of some controversy among history and architecture buffs, with some opposing the destruction of the modernist structure designed by architect Richard Neutra.[12] Nevertheless, it was razed in early 2013, and the site restored to its wartime appearance.[13]

Chicago “Buckeye” Copy[edit]

It is known that an original Philippoteaux Chicago work went on a tour of eight cities before returning to Chicago. It was this version that was displayed in 1933 at the World's Fair.[14] It was this original version that Winston-Salem, North Carolina, artist and collector Joseph Wallace King thought he had discovered in 1965. King had first seen the original Philippoteaux painting in 1933 at the Chicago World's Fair. Years later he described the original and how magnificent it was seeing it displayed in Chicago to his friend Ed Grout of Maryland. Mr. Grout arranged a meeting with the nephew of George McConnel to view a Cyclorama painting of Gettysburg that was then purchased by Mr. King. He was not aware that it wasn’t the original he saw in 1933. King appeared on the panel game show I've Got A Secret on May 30, 1966, displaying a 22' by 25' section of this painting (his secret was that this was only part of the painting). It was revealed that King had been searching for the original for some time, and now that he thought he found it, he hoped to construct a new cyclorama building.[14]

When King bought the copy painting it consisted of 13 panels sewn together and rolled into one piece. To more easily store and transport the painting King unstitched the 13 panels and stored them individually together with two separate panels of scenery used to make the painting a bit longer depending on the exhibition space. The 13 panels along with the two extra scenery panels bring the painting to 410 feet long according to King. The painting has, for the most part, remained rolled up since it’s discovery, though it was donated by King to Wake Forest University upon his death in 1996. The university sold the painting in 2007 to an anonymous group of Raleigh, North Carolina, investors. The painting has been appraised at a value of US$5.5 million, but the value of the sale remains unknown.[15] The group intends to resell the painting to a new buyer who will commit to restoring the work and building a suitable structure to house it.[3] Unfortunately it has since been discovered that the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Wake Forest mentioned above is not the original Chicago version by Philippoteaux. Instead it is an elaborate recreation by the artist E.J. Austen who was "a former artist with Philippoteaux's team who later worked for a competing studio in Chicago making buckeye (knock-off) copies of Gettysburg cycloramas." [16]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Heiser, John. "The Gettysburg Cyclorama". Gettysburg National Military Park. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Holzer, Harold. "Saving the 'IMAX of Its Day'" American Heritage, August/September 2005.
  3. ^ a b c d Jarvis, Craig (May 2, 2007). "Triangle trio buys massive painting". The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC). The News and Observer Publishing Company. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thomas, Dean S. (1989). The Gettysburg Cyclorama: A Portrayal of the High Tide of the Confederacy. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Thomas Publications. pp. 17–19. ISBN 0-939631-14-8. 
  5. ^ a b Appelbaum, Yoni (8 February 2012). "The Half-Life of Illusion: On the Brief and Glorious Heyday of the Cyclorama". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Appelbaum, Yoni (5 February 2012). "The Great Illusion of Gettysburg". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Morton, Margaret (July 2007). "Work in Progress". Civil War Times. pp. 28–35. 
  8. ^ "Cyclorama" (Google News Archive). Gettysburg Compiler. July 31, 1894. p. 2 col. 3. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  9. ^ Also one of Philippoteaux's works, Crucifixion is now on display at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec.
  10. ^ Worden, Amy (March 12, 2013). "Gettysburg's Cyclorama building is no more". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  11. ^ Stansbury, Amy (03/09/2013). "The death of the Gettysburg Cyclorama building". The Evening Sun. Archived from the original on 13 March 2013. Retrieved 28 March 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ "The Latest: Recent Past Preservation Network Sues National Park Service to Prevent Demolition of Historic Building at Gettysburg". CYCLORAMA: Richard Neutra's 1961 Lincoln Memorial at Gettysburg. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  13. ^ "Gettysburg National Military Park's Old Cyclorama Building Is No More," National Parks Traveler
  14. ^ a b King, Joseph Wallace. I've Got A Secret, May 30, 1966.
  15. ^ Jarvis, Craig (May 6, 2007). "What price art?". The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC). The News and Observer Publishing Company. Archived from the original on September 5, 2014. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  16. ^ Brenneman, Chris (2015). The Gettysburg Cyclorama: The Turning Point of the Civil War on Canvas. Savas Beatie. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-61121-264-8. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°49′01″N 77°14′01″W / 39.8170°N 77.2336°W / 39.8170; -77.2336