Behind The Scenes: The 'Plymouth Panorama'

Behind The Scenes: The 'Plymouth Panorama'

27 March 2021

The ‘Our Art’ gallery at The Box showcases a range of works from our fine art collections. On one wall we’ve gathered over 30 artworks that show different views of Plymouth. Here, our Art Curator, explains the display in more detail and reveals what it took to create.

The paintings in our ‘Plymouth Panorama’ follow the coastline from the River Plym, across the Sound, and up the River Tamar. The paintings span the 1600s to the present day and give a breathtakingly varied vista of Plymouth through the eyes of artists across the centuries. Many of these artists were from Devon and Cornwall and knew the landscape well. Others travelled to Plymouth from across Britain or abroad.

The ‘Plymouth Panorama’ includes beloved favourites of iconic sites in the city such as Beryl Cook and Stanley Spencer’s paintings of the Hoe. Also included are some of the earliest known views of Plymouth, Wenceslaus Hollar’s drawings of the Sound made in 1668. We used the entire wall to display these works. Traditionally this is called a ‘salon hang’, inspired by the compacted way paintings were hung in annual salons held by the Royal Academy in the 1800s. Every inch of wall space was used, from the eye-line all the way up to the ceiling. Today, this allows us to display a number of works together and arrange them in a way that encourages dialogue.

The 'Plymouth Panorama' in the Our Art gallery at The Box, Plymouth

Look at the two works below which are shown next to each other in the gallery and which trace the changing landscape of Plymouth over time. Philip Hutchins Rogers, a local painter, captured this peaceful landscape in 1814. This view is from high ground near Hooe Manor, looking out across Hooe Lake to the limestone plateau of Cattedown, with the town of Plymouth beyond. The tidal lake is now partly filled in. Quarrying and industrial and residential development took away much of the hill between the lake and Turnchapel, and the greater part of Cattedown.

A century later, Borlase Smart painted the chemical works at Cattedown when he returned from the war. Born in Kingsbridge, Smart studied at Plymouth College of Art and worked as a journalist for the Western Morning News. He joined the Artist Rifles during the First World War and is known for his drawings of the Western Front, later becoming a founding member of the artistic community in St Ives, Cornwall. His painting documents the changes that have occurred in the area over a century, and also highlights the dramatic difference in how each artist used colour and light.

Hooe Lake by Philip Hutchins Rogers
Chemical Works by Borlase Smart

The two paintings of the Barbican below show familiar and now-lost buildings. Born in Cornwall, Nicholas Condy lived in Plymouth documenting local scenes like this bustling market day on the Barbican. Laundry dries out of the windows of buildings that were demolished in the mid to late-1800s. Some buildings still stand today like the building with the high sloping roof. Known as Island House, it’s where the Mayflower passengers were said to have lodged before their transatlantic journey in 1620. Condy’s depiction of a fish market on the Barbican also hints that among these land- and cityscapes we see people at work and at leisure, from fashionably dressed Victorians waiting on the ferry to Mount Edgcumbe to pedestrians in bright, flowered dresses in the 1960s promenading along the byway near the citadel.

Henry George Cogle was born in Plymouth, studied at Devonport Dockyard School and worked as an engineer. Evening study at Plymouth School of Art enabled him to become an art teacher, eventually becoming head of department at Battersea School of Art. Research by one of our volunteers helped us date this painting to 1931-1933. This is based on the absence of a warehouse which we know was demolished in 1931 and the inclusion of the customs watch house. This was demolished in 1933 to make way for the Mayflower Steps. The pier, lost after the Blitz, is depicted in the ‘Plymouth Panorama’ three times. Smeaton’s Tower can be seen both at sea and in its later position on the Hoe.

The Barbican by Nicholas Condy
Sutton Pool and The Barbican by Henry George Cogle

Installing the ‘Plymouth Panorama’ took a dedicated team of art installers, conservators and curators, the use of special machinery to safely lift all the artworks into place and lots of careful planning and measuring!

Installing the 'Plymouth Panorama' at The Box, Plymouth
Installing the 'Plymouth Panorama' at The Box, Plymouth

These 30 paintings offer a small peek into the extent of our art collections which contain over 800 paintings as well as thousands of prints, drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks. We’ll be rotating them at regular intervals for visitors to enjoy in their repeat visits to The Box.

Thanks to Terah Walkup, Art Curator