Cyclorama of Early Melbourne

Cyclorama of Early Melbourne

Cyclorama of Early MelbourneAt the State Library of Victoria, this rare and historical cyclorama oil painting shows a 360 degree view of Melbourne in the 1840s.

Measuring 100 feet, this panorama is one of the earliest known views of Melbourne. It depicts the people, buildings and streets of the fledgling colony, and offers views of the Yarra River and the You Yangs.

In 1892, scenic artist John Hennings was commissioned to paint a cyclorama based on Samuel Jackson's Panoramic Sketch of Port Phillip dated 30 July, 1841. Hennings's cyclorama was displayed in the eastern annexe of the Exhibition Building for almost 30 years.

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What is a cyclorama?
A cyclorama was an illusionistic pictorial entertainment that was popular in Europe and America from the late 18th century until the arrival of cinema at the end of the 19th century. Usually depicting a historical battle or great city, most cycloramas were displayed in purpose-built circular brick and iron structures. In the late 1880s and early 1890s Melbourne had three cycloramas - The Battle of Waterloo and the Eureka Stockade in Victoria Parade, and The Siege of Paris in Little Collins Street.

Cyclorama of Melbourne
In 1892, the Victorian colonial government through the Exhibition Trustees commissioned John Hennings to paint a cycloramic painting of Melbourne. Hennings was paid 500 guineas (about A$1000) for his work which took five months to complete.

Who was John Hennings?
Hennings was born in Bremmen, Germany in 1835. He arrived in Australia in July 1855, and over the next 40 years became well known as a theatrical scenic artist. His long experience painting sets for opera, drama and pantomime made him the obvious choice for enlarging Samuel Jackson's panoramic sketch.

Where was it displayed?
The cyclorama was displayed in the machinery room on the eastern side of the Exhibition Building. This area had been designated as the people's entertainment area and housed an aquarium, a fernery and a space for performing seals as well as a gallery and museum.

Around 1918, the cyclorama was rolled up, stored and forgotten until March 1953 when it was damaged in a fire that destroyed a section of the Exhibition building. Three years later, the Exhibition Trustees donated the painting to the Library.

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Cyclorama of Early Melbourne

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