Panoramas and Prints

By Charles A. Eve a.r.c.a.

 

Long before the days of Moving Pictures one of the events of the year was the visit to the town of the Panorama. Being taken to see this was a long-looked-for treat, and after­wards a favourite occupation for children was the making of miniature panoramas and showing them to each other, in the winter evenings, at the small admission price of two pins.

The first step was the collection of suitable pictures, about the size of the Graphic, which were not printed on the back, so that they could be shown by the light of a candle behind. These were stuck together end to end and mounted on rollers, in a box with the bottom knocked out, and a proscenium made of pieces of wallpaper. I was fortunate in finding a number of suitable pictures from a collection my father had for sale, which I now find were some of the earliest lithographs.

In this method of printing, which had only been discovered in the early part of the 19th century by Alvis Senefelder, who published the first book in English on Litho­graphy in 1819, and died in 1824, the original drawing is made the reverse way with greasy chalk on a piece of prepared limestone. The stone is afterwards wetted so that the printing ink will take only on the chalk surface, and from this the lithograph is obtained.

This introduction gave a great impetus to artists because it enabled them to make their drawings direct on the stone with a resulting texture similar to that of a chalk or pencil drawing, from which a number of prints could be made without the intervention of another artist as with copper­plate or wood engraving.

One of the first to use this method in the West of England was John Pope Vibert, a man of many parts, born 1790, who carried on business as Bookseller, Watchmaker and Jeweller, at 2, Market Place, Penzance. He was also super­intendent of the building of the new Market House in 1835, and when he was way warden in 1836-7 introduced fiat-paving in the streets and is said to have been the originator of all public improvements for many years.

My grandfather, James Eva, who had a painting and decorating business in a house called the Birdcage, which was opposite Vibert’s, where the Market House now stands, must have purchased the whole of the prints remaining when the jewellery business was sold to W. H. Trounson, as we had some hundreds of them.

The earliest prints of Penzance and the district seem to have been drawn by James Tonkin in 1834; the prints of the Logan Rock, Sennen Church, and the First and Last Inn are by him. Tonkin died in 1837 and in that year John Skinner Prout, who was a nephew of Samuel Prout the celebrated water-colour artist, came to Penzance and drew at least 16 lithos, from 1827 to 1838, of the churches, crosses and views, including the old Market House and the Market Cross, which were all printed by Vibert.

  In 1833 E. J. Boule did three views of the old St. Mary’s Chapel and the Churches of Gulval, Madron, Marazion, Sennen, Sancreed, St. Just and St. Levan. About the same time Richard Thomas Pentreath drew several views on stone which were also printed by Vibert, but some of Pentreath’s later and larger ones, such as the visit of Queen Victoria to St. Michael’s Mount, were drawn on the stone from his pencil drawings and printed in London. There are a few prints by John Grenfell Doyle, M.R.C.S., dated 1832-3.

After 1840 the method seems to have become com­mercialized and the auto-Iitho disappeared until it was revived by Whistler, Pennell, Fantin Latour and others. Some good examples of these will be found in the early. numbers of the Studio.

All these early prints were in black-and-white; later, colour prints were obtained by using a stone for each colour. Sometimes up to twenty stones were used and to obviate the immense weight of so many stones experiments were made, when it was found that zinc plates could be used instead of stone, and the result was zinco-litbography.

  Panoramas are now a thing of the past and few of these early lithographs remain, but those that do are well worth preserving, not only for their pictorial value, but as the work of these pioneers of an early method of reproduction.

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Last modified: Sunday October 22, 2006 .