The Story of the Painting
Company manager William Wehner went to Europe to find artists with the necessary skills. He selected a group of German artists with experience in European cyclorama painting and brought them to Milwaukee. Some of the artists had worked on cycloramas depicting German victories in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).
Three Specialized Groups
The artists worked in three groups under the supervision of F.W. Heine and August Lohr. Heine, a Prussian army veteran, was in charge of the master composition. Lohr designed landscape settings.
Other artists were:
• Landscape painters — Bernhard Schneider, Wilhelm Schroeter and Franz Biberstein;
• Figure painters — Thaddeus Zukotynski, Theodore Breidwiser, Franz Rohrbeck, Herman Michalowski and Johannes Schultz;
• Animal painters — Richard Lorenz and George Peter.
Wooden Tower The artists studied the landscape from a 40-foot wooden tower erected near the intersection of Moreland Avenue and the Georgia Railroad. They correlated landmarks with references made in military maps and official reports of the battle and made oil sketches of many details of the battle area.
Koch House The artists' painting equipment was kept in the basement of the Fred Koch house (282 Moreland Ave. S.E.). In 1885 this house stood atop Leggett's Hill, which had played a role in the battle 21 years before. The Koch house is no longer there, but was still standing as late as 1953.
Helpful Observers During their several months of study in the tower, the artists received helpful information and insightful reminiscences from Confederate and Union veterans and residents of the surrounding neighborhood. An interpreter translated for the non-English-speaking artists.
First Exhibitions William Wehner placed the Battle of Atlanta on exhibition in Detroit in 1887. This was the first of several stops on a tour of large cities that ended in Indianapolis, where the painting was displayed in 1888. During the tour it was publicized as "Logan's Great Battle," in reference to General John A. Logan, commander of the Union Army of the Tennessee in the Battle of Atlanta. According to tradition, the painting was originally commissioned to boost Logan's vice presidential candidacy on the ticket with James G. Blaine in 1884. But the timing was off by two years, and General Logan, who died in 1886, probably never saw the completed work.Changing Ownership
Atkinson brought Missionary Ridge to Atlanta and displayed it in a drum-shaped structure on the north side of Edgewood Avenue, between Courtland Street and Piedmont Avenue. In 1892 he shipped Missionary Ridge to Nashville where it was subsequently destroyed by a tornado.
The Battle of Atlanta replaced Missionary Ridge in the Edgewood Avenue building in 1892. The exhibition's first lecturer was Charles W. Hubner, veteran chief of General Joseph E. Johnston's – later General John B. Hood's – telegraph corps during the war.
In 1893 Atkinson sold the painting to H.H. Harrison of Florida. Harrison wanted to exhibit it at the World's Columbian exposition in Chicago, but the cost of building a structure for it was so high he abandoned the idea and the picture remained in Atlanta.
Heavy snowfall that winter caved in the roof of the Edgewood structure and damaged the painting. It was sold at auction in 1893 to Ernest Woodruff. He in turn sold it to George Valentine Gress and Charles Northen, who asked the city to assign space for it in one of the city parks. Atlanta agreed and a frame structure was erected in Grant Park.George Valentine Gress (April 25, 1847-Aug. 28, 1934) was born in Sullivan County, New York, and became an outstanding public-spirited citizen of Atlanta. His gift of animals to the city in 1889 founded the Grant Park Zoo. His purchase of the Cyclorama in 1893, and its presentation to the city in 1898, ensured the preservation of the huge canvas – the best-known and best-mounted cyclorama in the world.
In 1898, Gress gave the Cyclorama to the city, asking only that the painting be repaired and its wooden building improved. The city accepted the gift, relying on admission fees (10 cents per person) to cover repairs and improvements. These were estimated at $2,400, but the actual cost came to $4,066.17. Repairs were completed just in time for a reunion of Confederate veterans in Atlanta that year. During the city's first week of Cyclorama operation, the 10 cent admission totaled $1,000, even though the veterans were admitted free of charge.Into the 20th Century
A diorama was added in 1936, providing a three-dimensional foreground that blends seamlessly with the painting.
In 1979, the Cyclorama was shut down for a two-year period while the painting was repaired and the museum and theater were updated. It reopened in1982 with a dynamic new program, rotating seats, surround sound and theater lighting.
In 1979-1982, the painting was repaired and re-hung by Gustav Berger and the dirt in the foreground was replaced with fiberglass. Rotating stadium seats and a movie theater were added. Total cost of the restoration was $14 million. Renovation of the Cyclorama is ongoing, and local restoration experts are called on regularly to assist in maintaining the painting.
21st Century — the Story Continues
Today, after its many travels, relocations and extensive repairs, the painting measures 42 feet x 358 feet. Although these measurements are smaller than the original dimensions, it is still the largest oil painting — and longest running show — in the world.