The remarkable series of historical paintings which make up the Mormon Panorama were the work of one man, himself something of a wonder, Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831–1912). A pioneer in central Utah’s arid Sanpete Valley, he found time to do three complete panoramas on historical and religious subjects, murals, easel paintings, poetry, journalism, missionary work, and church and community service.
Christensen’s life story reads like a nineteenth century classic. Born in Copenhagen, he grew up in a boarding school for orphans where three patronesses sponsored him at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen. At age nineteen, while working as an apprentice painter, his life changed again when he met missionaries, joined the Church, and immigrated to Utah with his Norwegian bride, pulling their possessions in a handcart for the last 1300 miles.
The idea of illustrating lectures with paintings on long scrolls apparently came to Christensen in the 1870s; the Mormon Panorama, the only surviving series, consisted of twenty-three scenes based on interviews with eyewitnesses.
Beginning in 1878, for more than a decade he and his brother would load the 175-foot scroll into their wagons and tour Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, presenting the lecture while an assistant cranked the scroll up to the correct scene. Brigham Young University acquired the Panorama in the early 1950s (though the first scene had been lost or destroyed). The panorama came to national prominence in 1970 with a showing at New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art and a special issue of Art in America. It has since been displayed in many American art museums.
In 1879, Christensen expressed his special sense of mission: “I can now see that the hand of the Lord is in all this, and I only wonder why I did not begin twenty years earlier. … History will preserve much, but art alone can make the narration of the suffering of the Saints comprehensible for the following generation.”—Paul L. Anderson and Richard Jensen, Church Historical Department.