Cyclorama and Museum

place image
Courtesy of M.H. Mitchell

     The Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum has been a Grant Park institution for nearly 125 years. The 360-degree circular painting known as the Cyclorama is the world’s largest historic oil painting.  It depicts the Battle of Atlanta, a pivotal Civil War battle fought in the areas surrounding the park. While preservation of the painting itself is an ongoing concern, the imminent threat facing the Cyclorama is its removal from its historic building and home in Grant Park, which is on the National Register and a part of the Historic Grant Park District.

     The painting was created in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin studios of the American Panorama Company.  It was originally commissioned by a Union army officer, General John A. Logan, who was involved in the Atlanta campaign in 1864.  General Logan ran unsuccessfully for President in 1894 and used the painting as a political advertisement of his military heroism. The painting toured several large cities in 1887 and changed owners several times before it was purchased by Atlanta businessman George V. Gress in 1893.

     Gress gave the painting to the City of Atlanta in 1898 and it was initially housed in a wooden building within Grant Park.  In the early 20th century, concerns about preservation of the painting prompted the City to provide a fire proof building. This new structure, designed by Atlanta architect John Francis Downing and dedicated in 1921, is where the painting resides today. Although slightly reduced from its original size, at 42 feet high and 358 feet long it remains the largest oil painting in the world. Our painting is also the largest one of three in the United States; only 16 still exist throughout the world.

     Artists from the Works Progress Administration created a diorama for the painting in 1936. The diorama provided a three-dimensional foreground to the action depicted in the painting. It blends seamlessly with the painting and adds greater context to the wartime action that occurred surrounding its present home. The diorama includes plaster figurines (one is painted in the likeness of Clark Gable, star of “Gone With The Wind”) and site-specific details such as railroad tracks. The Museum’s collection continued to expand with the addition of the locomotive Texas, made famous by the Andrews Raid (Great Locomotive Chase) of 1862.

     From 1979-1981 the painting underwent an $11 million restoration to treat deterioration and water damage.  The diorama and Museum building were simultaneously repaired and modified before a June 1982 reopening.

     Today the Cyclorama faces a new crisis. Officials are considering relocation of the painting to another site. The Atlanta Preservation Center and the Grant Park Neighborhood Association feel that the painting is intimately linked to its current surroundings by its subject matter and by the proximity of Fort Walker, one of the few remaining earthworks which formed part of the defenses of Atlanta and which is located behind the historic Cyclorama building. (The park occupies land donated to the City of Atlanta by Lemuel Pratt Grant, the Confederate engineer who surveyed and designed for the fortifications around the City.) Removal of the painting would eliminate visitors’ convenient geographic access to the Battle’s context, as well as the neighborhood’s local businesses and heritage tourism industry.

UPDATE- The City of Atlanta announces the sale of the Cyclorama painting to the Atlanta History Center and the potential for Zoo Atlanta to occupy the Cyclorama building.  The Atlanta Preservation Center awaits details of the historic Cyclorama building.

Listed in 2014

Address: 800 Cherokee Ave SE Atlanta, GA  30315
Area of City: Grant Park
Time: 1921
Architect/Designer: John Francis Downing