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London's lost view: the Prévost panorama

Newly acquired by the Museum of London, an epic panorama 20 feet wide records what London looked like 200 years ago. Let's look at this lost view of the city, now uncovered for the first time in centuries.

Francis Marshall

Senior Curator, Paintings,Prints & Drawings

11 March 2019

A sweeping view showing the area around Westminster.

A panoramic view of London, from the tower of St. Margaret's Church

Painted in 1815 by the French artist Pierre Prévost.

In late 1815, as the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close, French artist Pierre Prévost took the opportunity to visit London, where he created this 360° view. It was painted from the tower of St Margaret’s church, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. Click through this gallery of images to see Prévost's view of London and how it's changed over the centuries.

In the early 19th century, panoramas were an extremely popular form of entertainment. These huge 360° landscape paintings gave visitors an immersive experience, placing the viewer into the scene and allowing them to experience it almost first-hand.

This is the most important topographical image the Museum of London has acquired since the Rhinebeck Panorama in 1998. Measuring 85 cm high x 605 cm wide, it is certainly the largest. Yet, it is merely the study for a now lost canvas. When Prévost’s larger panorama was first displayed in Paris, in a purpose built rotunda, it measured approximately 32 metres in diameter.

On display at the Museum of London.

Rhinebeck Panorama, 1806

The panorama testifies to London’s magnetic attraction as a city and the capital of a world power. Its focus on London on as a seat of political power complements the Rhinebeck Panorama, which has mercantile London at its heart, exemplified by the City, the Pool of London and the wharves of Bermondsey. Furthermore, in contrast to the Rhinebeck Panorama, which looks west, Prévost’s view looks in all directions at once, revealing an astonishingly low-rise city, punctuated only by church steeples and factory chimneys, and the dominating mass of St Paul’s.

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The Museum of London acquired the panorama in July of 2018, and our conservators and curators have been preparing it for display.

The panorama was purchased with the help of the Art Fund, the Aldama Foundation and a group of individual donors, with additional support from Michael Spencer, the Leche Trust and other donors who wish to remain anonymous.