The Idea of Panorama – Sydney Views

January 24, 2012

Three photos, side-by-side here, of Circular Quay, taken from Platform 2 of Circular Quay Railway Station. This would be difficult to sketch in one sitting, since I’m standing up and in full morning sunlight, but it’s theoretically possible if I do it over several sessions perhaps. Splitting the view up into three, as in these photos, one per A4 landscape piece of paper, seems feasible. Theoretically too, one could lean on the guard rail and eliminate the ‘barrier’ altogether.

Here are two photos of the same scene, but obviously lower down (and out of direct sunlight), given I’m sitting on a nearby platform seat. The inclusion of the glass barrier in any sketch doesn’t worry me at all; we are constantly viewing buildings and other vistas “through” fences and safety barriers of one type or another. For many decades this was in fact a brick-and-tile barrier, so things have ‘improved’ with its replacement by glass.

Obviously I felt uncomfortable scribbling in the close company of train commuters, so here’s a preliminary pencil sketch done on-site (with Prismacolor coloured pencils added at home). The pencil sketch was really designed only to see how much detail is able to be captured on a single A4 page. The key question here is: how much detail do I have to eliminate to fit everything on to a piece of paper or a set number of several pieces of paper? Is one aiming for precision in the detail or simply an impression of the panoramic landscape?

Sydney Panorama Drawings

There’s quite a history of drawing and photographing panoramas of Sydney, or creating “Sydney Views”. They seem to have started with Louisa Anne Meredith whose impressions of Sydney were published in the 19th-century; she left a very extensive panorama drawing of Sydney, done in 1840 from Lady Macquarie’s Chair and thought to have been intended to complement her written account of Sydney Town. The original is in the PowerHouse Museum, 97/279/1 (42cm high and 184.3cm long), a complex and comprehensive drawing (with annotations indicating landmarks) in pencil, on some 15 unfolded sheets of sketchbook paper. Later on, a 19th-century panorama was painted on a punch bowl – now in the archives of the Sydney Town Hall.  Both of these were done to publicise Sydney to the outside world. Similarly, Urban Sketchers are today delving into the panorama technique in part to publicise their towns and cities, whether they be San Antonio Texas or Naples Italy.

And panoramas weren’t just made from the southern shore of Sydney Harbour. The Holtermann panorama was a series of photographs taken from Lavender Bay on the North Shore in 1875. The Sydney panorama continues to be a popular subject for photographers to the present day.

Vantage points

The late Margaret Olley was able to paint, in her final year, Sydney Harbour from a high vantage point – a residential apartment. I’m not sure to what extent urban sketchers can access similar: Sydney Eye (Sydney Tower) or the MLC Centre or views from hotels like the Intercontinental. One could book a table at the Forty One restaurant in Chifley Tower or the Summit Restaurant atop Australia Square. There is the Cahill Expressway lookout, accessible by lift from the quay. And the Pylon Lookout, the easterly southern pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Savant Stephen Wiltshire has been able to draw Sydney Harbour from memory, from Sydney Tower, Centrepoint.


19th-century: Louise A Meredith – Starts with Bennelong Point round to Potts Point via Sydney Harbour.

The Holterman panorama, 23 albumen silver photographs, 97.8cm long.


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