The Barker Family: Panorama Painters Posted on

The Barker Family: Panorama Painters

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barkerThe English itinerant portrait painter Robert Barker  (1739–8 April 1806) coined the word “panorama”, from Greek pan (“all”) horama (“view”) in 1792 to describe his paintings of Edinburgh, Scotland shown on a cylindrical surface, which he soon was exhibiting in London, as “The Panorama”. In 1793 Barker moved his panoramas to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, and made a fortune.

Viewers flocked to pay 3 shillings to stand on a central platform under a skylight, which offered an even lighting, and get an experience that was “panoramic” (an adjective that didn’t appear in print until 1813). The extended meaning of a “comprehensive survey” of a subject followed sooner, in 1801. Visitors to Barker’s semi-circular Panorama of London, painted as if viewed from the roof of Albion Mills on the South Bank, could purchase a series of six prints that modestly recalled the experience; end-to-end the prints stretched 3.25 meters.

The exterior of a Panorama building.

The exterior of a Panorama building.

When Barker first patented his technique in 1787, he had given it a French title: La Nature à Coup d’ Oeil (“Nature at a glance”). A sensibility to the “picturesque” was developing among the educated class, and as they toured picturesque districts, like the Lake District, they might have in the carriage with them a large lens set in a picture frame, a “landscape glass” that would contract a wide view into a “picture” when held at arm’s length.

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