At a time in the world when entertainment came largely in the form of stage productions, readings, lectures, and musical performances, before film, television and radio, there was a role for gigantic paintings known as panoramas and cycloramas. These enormous canvases were sometimes created in an industrial manner employing dozens of men and women artists in their execution. Audiences either stood while a huge painted canvas was unrolled before them, or the viewers were placed in the center of a rotunda to view the paintings that completely encircled them. These canvases were often educational, showing scenes from classic history, the Civil War and religious themes.
More than one Milwaukee business was formed to participate in this form of entertainment production. Among them was the Milwaukee Panorama Company, started by William Wehner, who recruited about twenty academically trained painters, many from Germany and Europe, to come to Milwaukee to paint these enormous canvases between the years 1885 to 1889. Some of Wisconsin’s most notable early painters participated in producing these wonders, including Richard Lorenz, F.W. Heine, Franz Biberstein, and even Carl Von Marr, plus dozens more.
The lifetime of these Panoramas was not long for they largely ceased being produced around 1890. But their influence lived on due to their having brought to Wisconsin these many artist employees, and for a time having helped secure Milwaukee’s place as a culturally and artistically literate city. Today there is a strong surge of interest in and study of in these extraordinary works of art and the men and women who created them.
Works by Panorama Painters, Late 19th Century