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Daguerre and Dioramas

From 1822 onwards, Daguerre created a new form of art - the diorama.

Dioramas were large paintings, in the case of Daguerre,  22 meters long and 14 meters high, painted on transparent linen, which gave a spectacular effect when lit by combinations of light from in front and behind.

In some cases the scene would transform from a daylight scene to a moonlit scene when the lighting changed.  In other cases, switching on additional lighting behind the scene could cause figures to "miraculously appear" in the scene.

In some cases, such as his view of Holyrood Chapel, Daguerre also produced smaller oil paintings of the same scene.  The lighting in his paintings was very realistic - in fact very similar to what might be found in a photograph.

However, Daguerre was to continue to paint dioramas for about 20 years before he announced his discovery of the Daguerreotype photograph - a small image on silver-plated copper.

Scenes painted by Daguerre

Between 1822 and 1839, twenty of Daguerre's dioramas were displayed in Paris.  Each display lasted for several months.  Three of scenes painted by Daguerre were local to Edinburgh.  They were:

-  Interior of Chapel of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, by Moonlight

-  Roslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, effect of sun

-  Edinburgh during the Fire of 15 November 1824

The dioramas were displayed  in a specially erected buildings in Paris and London, then later in Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Lothian Road Diorama

The Edinburgh Diorama was opened in Lothian Road in late 1827    [RDW]    It appeared in the Edinburgh Trade Directories under the management of Joseph Hall, lithographer, each year from 1831 until 1845.

Dioramas were shown in Edinburgh.  Further details can be found on R Derek Wood's web site:  The Diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s.

The Mound Diorama

There was also a second diorama in Edinburgh in the early 1840s.  It was situated beside the National Galleries in Princes Street, about half a mile from Lothian Road.

Below are some of the advertisements for dioramas that appeared in the Edinburgh newspaper, The Caledonian Mercury, in 1842.

Waterloo Rooms Diorama

Waterloo Rooms are situated close to the East end of Princes Street and Calton Hill.  It can be seen from the 1854 advertisement below that this became another venue for showing dioramas in Edinburgh



1842 and 1854



GORDON'S BRITISH DIORAMA is now open daily from twelve to four and from seven to ten, evening in the NEW BUILDING immediately above the Rotunda, MOUND, embracing:

-  A VIEW of the TOWER of LONDON during the recent conflagration.

-  ST GEORGE's CHAPEL, Windsor Castle and


Boxes 1s 6d,      Pit 1s 0d,      Gallery 6d.

[CM: 6 Jan 1842]



A review of the diorama in The Caledonian Mercury on 6 Jan 1842 began:

"Having heard the paintings at Mr Gordon's diorama spoken of in terms of the highest praise, we paid them a visit the other evening with our expectations proportionately raised and we must say that all our hopes were completely realised, for a more wonderful exhibition, whether as regards the skill of the artist, or ingenuity of the mechanist, we believe is seldom looked upon.  ...

We understand that on New Year's Day no fewer than 1,500 persons visited the Diorama."




This Sublime Exhibition is the most beautiful DIORAMA that has ever been exhibited.

"Open Daily at TWO and EIGHT pm at the Waterloo Rooms, Edinburgh"

[North British Advertiser:  24 April 1854, page 1]




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