The Diorama: some images

compiled by R. Derek Wood

The images and source texts in this web page are presented as a supplement to essays on the Diorama in Great Britain which first appeared in print in the quarterly journal History of Photography, Autumn 1993 (Vol 17, No.3, pp. 284-295) and on the Diorama in Paris in Photoresearcher (ESHPh), No 6 (1994/95/96), pp.35-40

Part 1.1 : Maps of the Park Square East, Regent’s Park, London, site of the Diorama

Park Square East in 1827. Click to go to Greenwood's map on Bathspa website 1827 previously 1999. Park Square East/Peto Place: lat=51.52478887304344 lon=-0.1451139596289841 1999

Top-left: Greenwood’s Map of London 1827, by courtesy of the Bathspa website
Top-right: 1999 map, on-line map by courtesy at that time of

Part 1.2 : Map of present day 10e Arrondisement Paris, site of the Diorama

The area of Paris in which the Diorama existed in the 1820s and 1830s later became completely redeveloped. In the 1920s Georges Potonniée   investigated the area and established where would have been the site of the Diorama. His sketch map has been reproduced in the essay on ‘Daguerre and his Diorama in the 1830s’. That map can be compared with the locality as it is after 2000: first in a 2001 map (courtesy at that time of Tele Atlas/, the site here pin-pointed on the south side of rue Léon Jouhaux at Caserne Verines just off the north corner of Place de la Republique, and secondly in aerial view (courtesy Geoinformation Group/Google Earth):

Site of Diorama at what is now rue Léon Jouhaux (Tele Atlas map 2000


Place Republique/Caserne Verines/Léon Jouhaux showing site of Daguerre's Diorama - lat=48.8685709059, lon=2.36378055556


Plaque fixed high on wall of the north end (at rue Léon Jouhaux) of Caserne Verines (which fronts along Place de la Republic) commemorating the site of Daguerre's Diorama

Photographed (July 2001) by R. D. Wood
Commemorating the site of Daguerre's Diorama:
a plaque fixed high on the north end wall (at
rue Léon Jouhaux) of Caserne Verines.

To the present author, the reference on this plaque to J. N. Nièpce is out of place - but instead, to fairly commemorate the Diorama, Bouton could have been mentioned!

Part 2.1 : The Buildings — London

18 Park Square East, London, c1960

18 Park Square East, Regents Park, c.1960
The sign ‘Diorama’ had been removed from the pediment
for many years, as at this period, but was later reinstated.

From C. W. Ceram, Archaeology of the Cinema,
Thames and Hudson, London 1965

Google Earth/Geoinformation satellite image, 2001, showing Peto Place and rear of Nash terrace at Park Square East, London

Aerial view,  Park Square East and Peto Place, London,  2001
Showing, in centre, the still existing basic structure of the Diorama
Courtesy of Google Earth and Geoinformation Group

John Timbs in his account of the Diorama in his book, The Curiosities of London, written in 1855, said that the Diorama building “has since been converted into a chapel of the Baptist denomination at the expense of Sir Morton Pete”. It must be this reconstruction of the 1850s (which would have replaced the special arrangement of windows designed for illumination of the dioramas) that has survived until today and features in the above satellite photograph taken in 2001. At the time in the early 1990s when the article on the 'Diorama in Great Britain' was written it was used by a local community 'Diorama Arts centre', but later 18 Park Square East (which formed the entrance to the Diorama when this Nash terrrace was built in the 1820s) became the national headquarters of a charity 'The Prince's Trust'.

Arthur Gill (who throughout the 1960s and 1970s wrote a regular column in The Photographic Journal of the Royal Photographic Society) recorded an account of a visit he made to the Park Square East/ Peto Place building at a time when it was empty in the mid–1970s. He found what seemed to be the remnant of a filled-in well of about twelve feet (3.7 metres) diameter which he thought was originally used to contain the turning shaft on which the Diorama saloon had turned. A few years before, when the building housed a department of the Middlesex Hospital, the well had been filled with warm water and used for hydrotherapy of disabled patients. Mr Gill explored fully the empty building and “tried to imagine what the aspect would be like if the circumferential rooms and offices were absent... However, try as I would, my imagination was unable to sweep away the modern amendments and adaptions, and recapture the Diorama. Except for that concrete–filled well ... everything has gone beyond recall”. (Arthur Gill, ‘The London Diorama’, History of Photography, January 1977, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.31-36)

Part 2.2 : The Buildings — Paris

The Diorama in Paris c.1830.gif

The Diorama in Paris, Woodcut c.1830
also showing in the background is the
cupola of Charles Langlois’ Panorama building.

From H. & A. Gernsheim, L. J. M. Daguerre, Secker and Warburg: London 1956

Part 3.1 : Dioramas and Paintings

Daguerre's diorama, poorly surviving in the church at Bry-sur-Marne, July 2001

Photographed by R. D. Wood (July 2001)
The diorama painted by Daguerre in 1842 in the church
at Bry-sur-Marne, poorly surviving there after 159 years.

This diorama measuring 6 by 5.3 metres has survived in limited form after injuries and several restorations. The image above shows what is seen in 2001 by a casual visitor to the church in the available light, but by controlled lighting it is possible to see this diorama in more of its old glory - as previously [displayed] on a Bry–sur–Marne website devoted to an ‘Expo Daguerre’ held there October to December 2001. The ability to display dioramic effects by lighting from the back and from the front has long been lost. Daguerre had integrated the display with the body and furniture of the church, but the church itself was considerably changed before the first world war as can be glimpsed from a poor reproduction of a photograph from that era in Georges Potonniée's Daguerre: Peintre et Décorateur (1935), p. 77. It is a precious relic, which Adrien Mentienne, mayor of Bry, and writer on Daguerre (La Découverte de la Photographie en 1839, pp. 108-110) had in 1892 vainly wished could have received the care available in a national museum. However at the beginning of 2007, the news is much better — funds have been obtained (and more sought) to allow restoration of the diorama to begin. The diorama has been carefully removed from the church to a workshop where the restoration is expected to take around three years — go to Daguerre-Bry-sur-Marne website and select ‘Le Diorama de Daguerre’ link at bottom of home page to see more on the first stages of the restoration.
A slide-show presentation on what has been learnt during the restoration work as at January 2009 is provided here on-line.
R. D. Wood's photographs of Bry-sur-Marne in July 2001, including views of the church, Daguerre's diorama of 1842 within the church before the restoration, and location of Daguerre's mansion are also available as a [Slideshow].

Daguerre's painting of Effect of Fog and Snow... (1826)

The Effect of Fog and Snow Seen
through a Ruined Gothic Colonnade, 1826

Oil on canvas, L. J. M. Daguerre, in Gerard Levy Collection
Reproduced in Panoramania! by Ralph Hyde,
London: Trefoil Publications / Barbican Art Gallery 1988,
catalogue item No.99 on p.119 with colour illustration on p. 168

Here following are four detail areas from the above image.
You can also chose to see a larger [1200 pixel] image of all of Daguerre’s painting.

Detail of Daguerre's oil painting Detail of Daguerre's oil painting
Detail of Daguerre's oil painting Detail of Daguerre's oil painting

Ralph Hyde wrote in the Panoramania! Catalogue about the above painting:

Item No.99: Soon after the opening of the Dioramas in Paris and London Daguerre provided three dioramas with Scottish subjects. The first of these, `The Ruins of Holvrood Chapel, Edinburgh, by Moonlight' was followed by `Roslvn Chapel near Edinburgh, Effect of Sun', shown in Paris 24 September 1824 to 14 August 1825 and in London from 20 February 1826. The painting here exhibited is based on Daguerre's third Scottish subject. The Romanesque building is imaginary but one of the two figures wears a kilt. The painting is thoroughly romantic and in spirit corresponds to the work of Caspar David Friedrich and Karl Friedrich Schinkel. It strongly manifests the literary influence of Sir Walter Scott.
The diorama version of this image was shown in Paris, 15 August 1825 - 4 May 1826, and in London from early June 1827. The diorama’s transformation effect was described at length in the Mirror of Literature, 30 June 1827:

All is sombre, desolate, and mournful; the long drawn aisles, at first glance, are alone perceived, for a thick fog reigns without, and such is the illusion of the scene that you actually fancy yourself chilled by the cold and damp air. By degrees, however, the fog disperses, and through the vast arches are plainly discovered the forests of pine and larch-trees that cover the valley. The magic of this effect of light is indeed most extraordinary and the illusion is complete and enchanting...

Daguerre’s related easel painting after the diorama shows us the scene when the fog has dispersed. That the painting was painted later than the diorama is evidenced by the date on it - 1826. The figure in the picture accompanying the kilted gentleman wears the red emblem of the Legion of Honour, a reference, it would seem, to the artist himself who had the Cross of the Legion bestowed on him by Charles X in January 1826.

For some more black and white engravings of Daguerre's dioramas of the 1820s go here to Images [Part 3.2]

ESSAY 1 :  Part 1  Part 2   Part 3   Footnotes  |  ESSAY 2 (Paris)  |
 Diorama Patent |  more engravings (3.2)  |  Home Page  |

Part 4 : Extra Documentation

Horace Wellbeloved, London Lions ...Being all the new buildings, Improvements and Amusements in the British Metropolis (London 1826),

Extracts from pages 23 and 28 on the Diorama at Regent’s Park, London:

THE DIORAMA, Regent’s Park

FOR several years past, the visitors of our [London] metropolis have been delighted with the splendid and tastefully executed Panoramic paintings of Messrs. Barker and Burford. The Diorama is, however, a mechanical improvement on these exhibitions, which consists in placing the pictures on painted scenery, intended to form the exhibition, within a building so constructed, that the saloon or amphitheatre, containing the spectators, may be caused to revolve at intervals, for the purpose of bringing in succession two or more distinct scenes or pictures into view, and without the necessity of the spectators removing from their seats. From this arrangement of the revolving saloon, the scenery or pictures themselves remain stationary, and, therefore, admit of the application of the improved method of distributing or directing the daylight upon or through them, so as to produce the effects of varying the light and shade, by means of a number of coloured transparent and moveable blinds or curtains, some of which blinds are placed behind the picture or scenery, for the purpose of intercepting and changing the colour and shades of the rays of light, which are permitted to shine or pass through certain semi-transparent parts of the said picture or scenery, and thereby effect many curious changes in the appearance of the colour, in proportion as the said coloured blinds are moved up and down, which motion is performed in a particular order by certain lines or cords connected with suitable machinery. Others of these coloured transparent blinds or curtains are situated above and in front of the pictures or scenery, so as to be moveable by the aid of cords or lines as aforesaid, and by that means to distribute or direct the rays of light which are permitted to fall upon the face of the picture, at the same time that the rays of light, in passing through the coloured blinds, effect many surprising changes in the appearance of the colours of the painting or scenery, and thereby form this pleasing exhibition.
It will be seen that the Diorama differs from the Panorama in this respect, that instead of a circular view of the objects represented, it exhibits the whole picture at once in perspective, and is decidedly superior in the accuracy with which the objects are depicted, and in the completeness of the illusion.
This exhibition, after having long delighted and surprised the gay world at Paris, was first opened in London, Sept. 29th, 1823. The views first exhibited, were the Interior of Canterbury Cathedral, and a picturesque view of the Valley of Sarnen, in Switzerland. In 1824, the views were changed to those of Brest Harbour, and Chartres Cathedral, and in March, 1825, Holyrood Chapel was substituted for Brest Harbour ;— all which scenes are represented in the accompanying Engravings.

On page 28, to sum up the significance of the dioramas,
Horace Wellbeloved settles on the singularity of ‘Effect’ - stage effect:

In this ingenious exhibition, the French artists have for once surpassed the English, in the effect they have produced by a particular class of works of art. But here the triumph ceases. Effect is the only concession that can be made, since, in talent, they are surpassed by the majority of our theatrical artists ; as for example, the splendid Eidophusicon, exhibited a few months since at Drury-lane, and the moving panoramic scenes by the Grieves, at Covent-garden, theatres. Hence the success of the exhibition altogether resembles stage effect, or making the most of certain little incidents on the stage, which give scope to the peculiar excellencies of any performer. The proprietors do not, however, offer the views as exquisite specimens of painting, but rather as skilful adaptations of means to an end. Effect does not entirely rest with fine touches of art, but rather with bold and vigorous expression, without being able to stand the test of scrupulous examination, or, as artists would say, in accomplishing en tout ensemble what is not effected separatime, or in detail. By this standard we must regulate the merits of the Diorama; but the general impressions on an uncritical spectator will be found to be nearly equal to those arising from the scenes themselves; and, hence, it becomes a most interesting illusion.
The interior of the building, which has been constructed expressly for this exhibition, resembles a small theatre, the part allotted to spectators consisting of a tier of boxes, raised three or four feet above the amphitheatre or pit.This is surmounted by a circular ceiling, tastefully ornamented with medallion portraits of distinguished painters and sculptors. The whole is made to revolve with the spectators, at intervals of a quarter of an hour; hence, as one picture recedes, the other comes gradually into view.
-—Admission, boxes 3s.; amphitheatre, 2s. ; description, gratis.

On p.26 an additional comment is added concerning the first two dioramas:

Ihe pictorial merit of these scenes is equalled only by the exquisiteness with which art is there, as it were, quickened into active life.—-In the first,[Brest Harbour] smoke is observed flowing over the town, and the water appears to have the regular motion of the sea... In the second painting, the cobweb upon the top of the picture — the congregation at their devotion, and numerous other characteristics, appeared to the enraptured spectator in all the realities of life.

The full text with the illustrations of three dioramas of ‘The Diorama, Regent’s Park’ from pp. 23-28 of Horace Wellbeloved’s book London Lions for country cousins and friends about town: Being all the new buildings, Improvements and Amusements in the British Metropolis, exhibited in a series of exquisite wood engravings, is available on this Midley website as a PDF file.
Images of the three wood engravings are also provided on the next webpage of more engravings (Part 3.2).

The Times (London), 21 March 1825:
The Times (London) 21 March 1825

The Diorama: Ruins of Holyrood Chapel
The Times (London), Monday 21 March 1825, p. 2

The Times (London), 4 October 1823:
The Times 4 October 1823

The first notice of the recently opened Diorama in Regent's
Park, London, to appear in The Times was on 4 October 1823.
The second half of that review featured Daguerre’s ‘Valley of Sarnen’ (above).


Pamphlet produced by Manchester Diorama in 1825 preserved at Manchester Central Library. Click for a larger image

Pamphlet produced by Manchester Diorama in 1825
Courtesy Manchester Central Library

Part 5.1 : Visiting the Diorama.
                Regents Park, London

On 4th July 1829 the first horse-drawn Omnibus started in London with a route from Paddington in the west to The Bank in the City of London in the east, going via Regent’s Park and past the Diorama there. A replica (based on a contemporary painting) of that Omnibus was reconstructed 100 years later in 1929 and is displayed at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, London.  As can be seen in the illustrations below, the Diorama in Regent’s Park featured prominently on a panel on the side of Shillibeer’s Omnibus, and more information can be found on the informative website of the London Transport Museum at

Shown here (Courtesy of London Transport Museum) is ‘Replica of horse drawn London Omnibus 1829’, the route being Paddington – Regent’s Park – Bank; and secondly, a destination panel on side of that Omnibus: “Diorama  Regent’s Park”.

Replica (1929) of Shillibeer’s 1829 Omnibus in London Transport Museum, Covent Garden, London     Destination sign on Replica of Shillibeer's Omnibus

Part 5.2 : Visiting the Diorama:

Complimentary ticket signed by Daguerre for two persons to visit Diorama

Ticket signed by Daguerre in 1830 for complimentary
visit of two persons to his Diorama in Paris

Reproduced from H. & A. Gernsheim L. J. M. Daguerre,
fig. 26, Secker & Warburg: London 1956

For more discussion on the history of the Diorama see extracts of the author's correspondence during the 1990s with other researchers of problem issues encounted during research.
ESSAY 1 :  Part 1  Part 2   Part 3   Footnotes  |  ESSAY 2 (Paris)  |
 Diorama Patent |  more engravings (3.2)  |  Home Page  |

This document is © copyright R. Derek Wood.  Other than for non-commercial and/or scholarly research this document may not be reproduced in any form electronic or otherwise without the written consent of the author. Non-commercial and or scholarly research usage should display the above copyright statement.

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