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Barker, Robert (Irish artist)



  • Existence: 1739-1806

Robert Barker was an Irish artist, born in 1739. He worked in Edinburgh in the late 18th century and invented the 'panorama' concept - a 360 degree view designed to be placed round the inside of a cylinder and viewed from the centre. The word was taken from the Greek 'pan', 'all', and 'horama', a view (from 'horan', to see).
Barker was granted letters patent in June 1787 by George III to display his panoramas. Although these were displayed in London, his first panorama was a view of Edinburgh displayed in Edinburgh in 1788.
The story goes that he was out walking on Calton Hill with the whole vista of the City of Edinburgh laid out before him, and he seized upon capturing the scene in the round. In 1787 he opened an exhibition in Edinburgh which was to have a major impact on the 19th and 20th century entertainment industries. It featured a panoramic view of the city painted around the inner wall of a rotunda which, when viewed from the centre of the room, gave the spectator the illusion of reality. Viewers were admitted via a spiral staircase to a central gallery. Special note was made that the viewer should not see the top or bottom of the painting to improve the illusion "of being on the very spot". Barker took his invention to London where it was an immediate success. Housed in specially built circular buildings, Panoramas subsequently became a very popular form of visual entertainment, in some ways heralding the cinema. Unfortunately none of Barker's large-scale Panoramas survive.
This type of illustration caught the public imagination and panorama viewing establishments soon opened in London, Paris and New York, and with the panoramas growing in size all the time. In the US they were often called 'cycloramas', a term which was first recorded from the 1840s.
In London, Barker panoramas were exhibited at an establishment in Castle Street, off Leicester Square. In 1791, a view of London from the roof of the Albion Mills was displayed. Later on, from 1793, Barker panoramas moved to the first purpose-built panorama building in the world, in Leicester Square, London.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

18th century Royal warrant commanding the preparation of letters patent granting Robert Barker use for fourteen years of his invention 'La nature a coup d'oeil ... for displaying views of nature ... by oil painting', or 'panorama'

 Fonds — Volume: CLX-A-1324
Identifier: Coll-1692
Scope and Contents This document is of significant interest as a record of the invention of what became one of the most popular forms of public entertainment in the first half of the 19th century.It is a Warrant signed by George III commanding the preparation of letters patent granting to Robert Barker the sole use for fourteen years of his invention of 'an entire new contrivance or apparatus which he calls la nature a coup d'oeil for the purpose of displaying views of nature at large by oil...
Dates: 1787

Coloured Panorama of Edinburgh

 Fonds — Frame: Barker Panorama
Identifier: Coll-1709
Scope and Contents This small, watercolour version of Barker's first full Panorama is dated 1792. Its purpose is unclear, but it is related to a set of engravings published two years earlier.
Dates: 1792

Coloured Panorama of Edinburgh

 Digital Record
Identifier: ADO-2016-0006

Panorama of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

 Fonds — Folder: Coll-1092 (E2006.22)
Identifier: Coll-1092
Scope and Contents This is an incomplete non-aqua-tinted version of the earliest panorama view - and a modest panorama. The panorama is composed of only four of the full collection of a six part set. The panorama shows (when the parts are laid adjacent to each other, and from right to left): - Calton Hill, and the Observatory there, looking east towards Berwick Law and the Forth estuary - Towards...
Dates: 1789-1790