Visit1862 Field Trip for the International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

On Wednesday 8th July the editors of visit1862.com had the privilege of running a field trip as part of the International Conference of Historical Geographers.

Comprised of seven historical geographers with a wide range interests including the development of museums, royal residences, London and the history of science and technology, our tour group were potentially more interesting than our tour! However, although the 1862 International Exhibition is used to being upstaged (the quirks of history and the glass wonder of Jospeh Paxton’s Crystal Palace largely leaving the International Exhibition of 1862 overlooked by historians), on this occasion the exhibition and the marks that it has left on South Kensington, London, shone through.

Victoria and Albert Museum © Ruth Mason, 2015

Victoria and Albert Museum © Ruth Mason, 2015

Tour group underneath Queen's Tower, Imperial College © Ruth Mason, 2015

Tour group underneath Queen’s Tower, Imperial College © Ruth Mason, 2015

Meeting at the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, we walked around the outskirts of the 1862 International Exhibition Building (built on the present site of the Natural History Museum). We worked our way up the hill, walking through what was once the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens and is now Imperial College.

Group at the Royal Albert Hall © Ruth Mason, 2015

Group at the Royal Albert Hall © Ruth Mason, 2015

Brief rain showers at the Albert Memorial © Ruth Mason, 2015

Brief rain showers at the Albert Memorial © Ruth Mason, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pam talking through artists on the frieze of the Albert Memorial © Ruth Mason, 2015

Pam talking through artists on the frieze of the Albert Memorial © Ruth Mason, 2015

Golden Albert © Ruth Mason, 2015

Golden Albert © Ruth Mason, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal College of Art, our tour reached a crescendo at the Albert Memorial, where the editors were temporarily relieved of their tour guiding roles while we were expertly guided around the memorial by Pam. Taken behind the memorial’s hallowed golden gates, we spent some quality time with Albert (who’s finger holds open a place in a copy of the 1851 Great Exhibition Catalogue), got up close and personal with great artists, sculptors, musicians and architects and were enrolled into the overwhelming allegorical meanings embedded within the memorial’s structure.

Backs at the Albert Memorial  © Ruth Mason, 2015

Backs at the Albert Memorial
© Ruth Mason, 2015

Royal Albert Hall from the Albert Memorial  © Ruth Mason, 2015

Royal Albert Hall from the Albert Memorial
© Ruth Mason, 2015

Sad to leave Albert behind, our tour continued back down the hill to the Victorian and Albert Museum. We perused documents printed at the time of the 1862 International Exhibition that are held in the National Art Library’s Collections (a list can be seen in our previous post) and took a whistle stop tour of the objects in the Victoria and Albert Museum that were displayed at the 1862 International Exhibition.

 

 

Despite occasional showers of rain, the tour was incredibly enjoyable and well received. For the editors of visit1862, the embodied process of walking the exhibition’s boundaries with our group provided a powerful insight into visitors’ geographical experiences of the 1862 International Exhibition. It conveyed the scale of the exhibition’s space, suggesting the navigational problems that many visitors’ commented on. And it hinted at the difficulties that visitors’ also recorded about getting to and from the exhibition (potentially aided by the slightly curtailed nature of the final section of a tour in order for all members to return home before the onset of that evening’s tube strike!).

Looking at documents related to the 1862 International Exhibition in the National Art Library  © Ruth Mason, 2015

Looking at documents related to the 1862 International Exhibition in the National Art Library
© Ruth Mason, 2015

The tour also demonstrated to us the huge potential that lies within using South Kensington as a material and spatial archive of the 1851 and 1862 International Exhibitions and their legacies. So many of the buildings, geographical layouts and general characteristics of this space continue to reflect the ideas, purposes and personalities that inspired and affected both of these events. It is therefore hoped that the discussions and reflections that this tour provoked will result in a number of new articles on visit1862.com. Watch this space.

Tour group in front of the Albert Memorial  © Ruth Mason, 2015

Tour group in front of the Albert Memorial
© Ruth Mason, 2015

© Ruth Mason, 2015

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1862 Resources in the National Art Library

The National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum is home to a plethora of printed sources related to the 1862 International Exhibition. This material embraces a whole range of publications including the exhibition’s official catalogue, official programmes for State events held in the exhibition, articles published in the journals, newspapers and magazines at the time, and small guidebooks sold to visitors overwhelmed by the range of objects on display. Published for so many different audiences and with such different purposes, these publications provide a range of different insights into the intentions of the exhibition’s organisers, reactions to the exhibition and ways that visitors developed to navigate this overwhelming display of material objects.

As part of the field trip that the editors of the visit1862.com are running at the International Conference of Historical Geographers, delegates will get a chance to have a look at the following publications.

Cassell’s Illustrated Family Paper Exhibitor; Containing About Three Hundred Illustrations with Letter-press Descriptions of all the principal objects in the international exhibition of 1862

A souvenir from the 186 International Exhibition. Too big to have been carried around the exhibition, this volumes main selling point was the large number of images it contains. It also provides some basic information about the design of the exhibition and how the things on display could be navigated.

George Frederick Pardon, editor, A Guide to the International Exhibition; With plans of the building, an account of its rise, progress and completion and notices of its principal contents

A small handbook intended to help visitors navigate the 1862 International Exhibition. Using reviews of objects on display published in the press, the guide identifies the exhibition’s highlights with the intention of preventing visitors from spending time looking at ‘less interesting’ objects.

Robert Hunt (Keeper of Mining Records) Handbook to the Industrial Department of the International Exhibition 1862, Volume 1 and II

Presents specific information about the 1862 International Exhibition’s industrial displays. Published in two volumes it is unlikely that this carried around and read at the exhibition. However, it provides illustrations that help to explain the new machines on display, with the underlying purpose of emphasising the technical progress and intellectual superiority of the British nation.

Handy-Book to the International Exhibition 1862; Its History, Structure and Statistics: A Guide to the Objects Most Worthy of Note. With Plans of the Building

A small and portable book that includes a simple ground plan of the exhibition. Largely focusing on the historical development and construction of the exhibition, it provides some information about objects that might have been of particular interest to visitors.

‘How a Blind Man Saw the International Exhibition’, Temple Bar

 A short article that uses the trope of a blind visitor to allow copious descriptions of the sounds and smells of the 1862 International Exhibition.

 Illustrated London News

The world’s first weekly, illustrated newspaper. By the 1860s the newspaper sold more that 300,000 copies every week and during the course of the 1862 International Exhibition published copious articles and illustrations about the event that were circulated throughout the country.

‘International Exhibition of 1862: Official Programme of the State Ceremonial of the Declaration of prizes to Exhibitors’

Printed specifically for attendants to the State Ceremonial for the declaration of prizes for exhibitors, this document provides some interesting insights into the officially organised events at the Exhibition and how the space was used to facilitate the requirements of state etiquette.

International Exhibition of 1862: Official Illustrated Catalogue, Volumes I & II

Provides a general overview of the way in which objects were organised in the exhibition and what sort of manufactures displayed objects at the event.

The Record of the 1862 International Exhibition

Published to posthumously celebrate the 1862 International Exhibition, the volume situates the 1862 exhibition within the broader context of contemporary International Exhibitions (France 1855, Dublin 1853 and London 1851). Includes a variety of images of the building and objects on display, records historical information about the development of the exhibition and discussion of the artefacts visitors would have seen.

Bound Volume including:

  1. Robert Kempt, What do you think of the Exhibition?

Pulling together comments that had been made about the 1862 International Exhibition in the press while it was open, this volume provides an overview on the opinions expressed by [well educated and influential] contemporaries. It also includes portraits of several of the individual men who played influential roles in the development of the exhibition.

  1. J,Campbell, Campbell’s Visitor’s Guide to the International Exhibition, and handy-book of London

This book was potentially intended for foreign tourists and is definitely aimed at visitors to the exhibition who were new to London. The book provides a helpful overview of the exhibition and services provided in the building (some of which are written in English, French and German), before moving onto descriptions of well-known buildings in London and how to get there by public transport.

Bound Volume including:

  1. Francis Turner Palgrave, Handbook to the Fine Art Collections in the International Exhibition of 1862

 Split into sections to reflect the organisation of the art on display at the Exhibition, this small pamphlet intended to provide instruction and discussion about the art of display at the exhibition.

  1. Edward McDermott Esq., The Popular Guide to the International Exhibition of 1862

Intended for regular visitors to the exhibition it provides good information about regulations imposed on visitors and explicitly describes itself as an aid for the visitor as they try to navigate through the exhibition’s confusing spaces.

  1. A Plain Guide to the International Exhibition: The Wonders of the Exhibition Shewing [sic] How they may be seen at one visit

 Taking each geographical section of the exhibition bit-by-bit this guide, with its simple ground plans, provides essential information about the exhibition to the visitor.

  1. The Penny Guide to the International Exhibition

A very small, thin and attractive publication that would have been easy for visitors to use as they went round the exhibition. In addition to telling a brief historical of the exhibition, suggesting particular objects worth seeing and information about the amenities in the exhibition building, the guide also provides a description of the International Bazaar that happened right outside the Exhibition.

  1. Calurs, International Exhibition 1862: Three Penny Guide to the Pictures, English and Foreign, or A companion to the Official Catalogue with Memoirs, Anecdotes, criticisms and legends. Calculated to save time and give pleasure

Focusing specifically on the paintings displayed in the exhibition, it provides simple descriptions of the things on display and an easy to use ground plan.

  1. The Compendium Catalogue of the International Exhibition 1862

An abbreviated version of the official catalogue, this volume provides a simple list of the different classes that objects were arranged into.

  1. Isabella, The Great Exhibition in Fairyland

A poem inspired by the 1862 International Exhibition.

  1. The World’s Palace, Old and New: An Ode

A poem inspired by the 1862 International Exhibition.

Anyone can register to use the National Art Library’s resources. All the information you need can be found on their website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/n/national-art-library/

© Ruth Mason, 2015

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Victorian London in Photographs

At the London Metropolitan Archives: 5th May 2015 – 8th October 2015

This free exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives creates a visual insight into the lives of Victorian Londoners. Collating images of people, places, buildings and things, the exhibition explores what Victorian London looked like and what contemporary photographers wanted it to look like. It shows photographs of famous streets and structures built during the Victorian era, back-allies and working class communities long-since displaced, and portraits of actors, emigrants and patients from Colney Hatch mental asylum.

Victorian London in Photographs, London Metropolitan Archives

Victorian London in Photographs, London Metropolitan Archives

The exhibition nicely highlights how many of the photographs displayed were carefully constructed by those who took them, either in photography studios or on the streets, to present a particular image of Victorian London and its inhabitants. However, the images themselves still manage to provide interesting, often intimate and moving, illustrations of life in the nineteenth-century capital.

Perhaps most interesting for the editors of visit1862.com is the exhibition’s section on the Crystal Palace. Originally the Crystal Palace was constructed in Hyde Park and housed the 1851 Great Exhibition, the predecessor to the 1862 International Exhibition. Once the exhibition was over, the glass structure was moved to Sydenham were it was reconstructed and made into a pleasure palace for members of the public. The photographs of the Crustal Palace displayed at the London Metropolitan Archives were taken by Philip Henry Delamotte and are just a small selection from the collection of 160 photographs that he published in 1855 to illustrate Crystal Palace’s two year reconstruction process. These photographs are insightful and interesting for those concerned with experiences of International Exhibitions and the cultures that surrounded them because they not only show the physical structure of Crystal Palace or the stuff that was inside it or in its grounds, but also the workmen who worked on its re-construction. They remind historians of the constant presence of humans in these architectural narratives and demonstrate the need to consider how people saw and related to these massive exhibitions and the things they displayed.

Delamotte, ‘The Great Nave, Crystal Palace’, 1854, Photograph, Victoria and Albert Museum: 39:286, © V&A, 2014

Delamotte, ‘The Great Nave, Crystal Palace’, 1854, Photograph, Victoria and Albert Museum: 39:286, © V&A, 2014

Beyond thinking about photography as representation, the exhibition provides interesting explanations of the cameras and processing techniques used to produce photographs in the nineteenth century. It also explicitly presents photographs as material things with qualities beyond their representative purposes, showing how Cartes de Visites also functioned as business cards or adverts and how photographs were collated into material albums.

These more technical parts of the exhibition also make a small nod to the 1862 International Exhibition. One of the trade cards that they include is for the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Co. c.1890. Under its original title, The London Stereoscopic Company, founded in 1854, were responsible for taking stereoscopic images of the 1862 International Exhibition. Photographic views that became three dimensional when viewed in a particular way, these stereoscopic images provide incredible information about the lay out of the 1862 International Exhibition, how objects were arranged and how people were able to interact with things on display. Stereoscopic views fell out of fashion as the 1860s progressed, the London Stereoscopic Co. was rebranded and began to produce conventional photographs, sell photographic equipment and hire out photographic studios and dark rooms to amateurs.

Although presenting a huge range of different photographs, the London Metropolitan Archives make it clear that this exhibition is best considered a taster of the many other photographs held in their collections. As such, the editors of visit1862.com are looking forward to the potential photographic sources that the London Metropolitan Archives may contain!

© Ruth Mason, 2015

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Sculpture Victorious?

Sculpture Victorious

Tate Britain

25 February – 25 May 2015

The marketing material composed for Sculpture Victorious at the Tate Britain is as brash, bold and boastful as the works featured inside of it. Visitors are promised exhibits that best represent this ‘Golden Age’ of British Sculpture, a time when sculpture was apparently prolific, ubiquitous, innovative and commercial. They are therefore invited to simultaneously consider the beauty and power of these works and marvel at their multiple meanings and reasons for production.  This is a lot to expect from objects, and it is maybe for this reason that the exhibition has been largely abused by the critics.

Despite the mid-twentieth-century exhibition held at the Victorian and Albert Museum on Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts, a lingering prejudice remains about the design and objects of the nineteenth century. Victoriana is just not popular – it’s difficult for today’s eyes to appreciate and admire because it is so different from our contemporary notions of taste and beauty.  This becomes clear when walking around Sculpture Victorious. Even the editors of visit1862, lovers of all things nineteenth century were struck by how difficult it was to relate to the sculptures on display. Indeed, the exhibition’s large gathering of such hyperbolic and exuberant objects is a visually demanding experience that has clearly taxed visiting critics. This is, of course, a shame because there are some fascinating objects in the exhibition, including Minton’s magnificent Peacock of 1873 that was shown at multiple international exhibitions, and the same manufacturer’s spectacular Elephant of 1889.

Upon reflecting on our own visit to this exhibition, the editors of visit1862 find that our sympathies largely lie with the critics. We find that the way in which the exhibition has been curated does not help the visitor navigate with the demands made by the objects on display. The curatorial team have found it difficult to navigate through the complexities of these sculptures and how they are beautiful objects that radiate power, undercurrent with tones of racism and oppression and other unpalatable themes.

We would suggest that to understand these works, you have to think like a Victorian. The exhibition leaflet does provide a broad framework that attempts to do this, but it provides too little guidance to successfully achieve such difficult a task. The general arrangement of the exhibition also attempts to engage in sophisticated analysis of a range of themes, but is potentially over optimistic in the number of stories it can tell, resulting in its main argument becoming unclear. The exhibition is arranged around six principle themes accompanied by more complicated narratives that are threaded throughout the exhibition.  To achieve this the show is divided into six rooms, one for each theme: The Image of Victoria; The Presence of History; Art and the Antique; Great Exhibitions; Commemoration; and Craft and Art.   These overarching stories are then joined by comparative discussions about sculpture techniques, the role of the sculptor and the influence of new materials on sculpture practices. At times these stories are successful, but in places the curators attempts to bring so many narratives together is overly complicated and results in a weaker and sparser narrative.

The thematic discussions in the exhibition are also undermined by the way in which the sculptures are presented as single artworks in the exhibition, displayed alone on their plinths and portions of wall space.  We were struck by how airy and open the exhibition space was and the way in which even felt sparse at times. This is probably because, as historians of international exhibitions – where many of these works in the exhibition were first displayed – we’re used to seeing photographs of displays of objects presented en masse in spectacularly overcrowded arrangements. In contrast, the objects in Sculpture Victorious have been put upon literal and metaphorical pedestals, the space around them creating a kind of vacuum that separates them object from other objects on display and the visitors coming to see them. In some ways these Victorian sculptures are able to hold their own during their surgical segregation from other sculptures and visitors. Many were originally intended to be viewed from a distance and were therefore grandly made in splendid in colours and huge scales. As a result they possess an innate confidence. Nevertheless, their removal from their original contexts leaves them vulnerable to the criticism of twenty-first-century critics. By arranging these sculptures in a twenty-first-century display pattern, the curators have welcomed critics to judge them using twenty-first-century values.

Further problems arise as a result of exhibitions’ text boards attempting to discuss the sculptures as designed objects, but from an art historian’s perspective.  Although their attempt to engage with sculptures as designed objects is an encouraging move, it is a misstep nonetheless.  Their discussions are incredibly frustrating and perplexing from our design historical point of view. After looking at the catalogue we noted that there are obvious gaps in its bibliography, why is there no reference to the work of Glenn Adamson when entire section of the exhibition is devoted to craft and art? Indeed, their failure to engage with recent design history, craft history and theoretical discourse is particularly disappointing when it could have immeasurably improved the exhibition.  For example, many critics have been left yawning and uninspired by the exhibition’s opening gambit – Queen Victoria’s glum countenance – and the way the exhibition engages with it through the use of well established themes of memorialisation, imperialism, historical revivalism and classicism. If the curators had paid more attention to recent developments in design and craft history they may have been able to tell more interesting stories about the dispersal of Victoria’s image, its after life and material significances.

Nevertheless, the show does allude to the marvellous machines that were designed in the nineteenth century to create reduced copies of sculptures in various materials, such as the Reducing Machine by Benjamin Cheverton (1794-1896).  Perhaps further discussion of these machines and what they produced could have made the exhibition more interesting. Why not then assemble a whole host of these portraits, rather than the paltry handful put in the room?  Why not replicate the machine?  Are they afraid to do this because the exhibition is in an ‘Art’ museum?

It must also be acknowledged that attempts are made throughout the exhibition to complicate the narrative of great male sculptors; discussions also considering the relationship between sculptors and industrial manufacturers, the media coverage of sculptural display and presentation, and public responses to sculptures.  However, the story of the great male sculptor still dominates and it is very noticeable that only one female sculptor is included in the whole exhibition.

Despite the exhibition’s curatorial problems, the exhibition was still exciting for the editors of visit1862 because it contained objects directly related to the 1862 International Exhibition. Most notably, we would recommend that our readers go to visit the exhibition just to see the Outram Shield, produced by silversmiths Hunt & Roskell to a design by Henry Hugh Armstead (1828-1905) specifically for the 1862 International Exhibition. Made of silver, gold and damascened steel, this enormous shield was a commission by friends of General Sir James Outram to commemorate his role in quelling the uprising against British rule in India in 1857.  Multi-layered Indian figures are fighting, dying, falling to British swords in heaps upon themselves in this uncomfortable tableau; sculpture and metalwork, according to the object label, are united in this piece to create a technical display par excellence.  But the horror of the scene is passed over by the curators.  We are asked to appreciate the beauty, be overcome by the power of the objects – but not to engage beyond the surface.  This object encapsulates many of the issues and questions raised in this review.  There are important design threads that do run through the exhibition narrative, including issues of reproduction, material, consumer culture, dissemination, craft and technology – but the traditional war of art vs. design must still be raging at Tate Britain.  So we have a strange mix of traditional art history (feeling conventional, in the comfort zone) and attempts to discuss making, craft skills and international exhibitions that fall short.  Marks for trying though.

On the whole, we feel the curator’s title for the show connotes wishful thinking on their part.  But the sculpture is unstoppable – overpowering the exhibition design, the curatorial narrative, the visitor – exerting palpable agency, they claim a victory of their own.

© Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason, 2015

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‘Taste’ and its creators: 1862 and beyond (Part 2)

Explanation 

Welcome to the second week of Natalie Bradbury’s and Ruth Mason’s (one of the editors of Visit1862.com) conversation about the process of taste formation.

Natalie is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Central Lancashire looking at Pictures for Schools, a scheme founded by painter and educator Nan Youngman which ran from 1947 to 1969 and aimed to get original works of art into schools. As well as focusing biographically on Youngman, she is particularly interested in the relation between art education, art appreciation and post-war themes of citizenship, taste, modernity and reconstruction. She blogs about her research process and archival finds at www.picturesforschools.wordpress.com.

Natalie and Ruth met in November 2013. Although studying very different periods, individuals and institutions it became apparent that they were both interested in the process of taste formation and how ‘good taste’ has been considered a value that can be easily enshrined in the general public since before the 1862 International Exhibition and beyond.

Last week Natalie’s post explored the post-Second World War Pictures for Schools project and its role in forming children’s taste. This week, Ruth considers the role the 1862 International Exhibition in forming Britain’s taste in the nineteenth century. Both Natalie and Ruth have made short responses to each other’s posts and we warmly encourage more comments, questions and further discussion points.

Taste and the 1862 International Exhibition, Ruth Mason

Webb, Phillip, St George Cabinet, 1861-1868, painted and gilded mahogany, pine and oak, with copper mounts. Object shown in the medieval court at the 1862 International Exhibition. Victoria and Albert Museum: 341:1 to 8-1906, © V&A, 2014

Webb, Phillip, St George Cabinet, 1861-1868, painted and gilded mahogany, pine and oak, with copper mounts. Object shown in the medieval court at the 1862 International Exhibition. Victoria and Albert Museum: 341:1 to 8-1906, © V&A, 2014

Many of the objects displayed at the 1862 International Exhibition influenced High Victorian taste. Perhaps some of the best-known examples are the pieces displayed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. in the exhibition’s medieval court.

Webb, Philip, chest, 1861-1862, wood (probably pine), with silver leaf, glazed and painted with tinted varnishes; wrought iron mounts. Object shown in the medieval court at the 1862 International Exhibition. Victoria and Albert Museum: W.35-1978, © V&A, 2014

Webb, Philip, chest, 1861-1862, wood (probably pine), with silver leaf, glazed and painted with tinted varnishes; wrought iron mounts. Object shown in the medieval court at the 1862 International Exhibition. Victoria and Albert Museum: W.35-1978, © V&A, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Knowing that objects such as these influenced High Victorian taste would have made Henry Cole – and many others involved in the formation of the South Kensington Cultural Quarter and International exhibitions organised after the 1851 Great Exhibition – very happy.

J.McNeven, J. (draughtsman (artist)), William Simpson (lithographer), Ackermann & Co. (publisher), ‘The transept from the Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition’, 1851 (printed and published), print, Victoria and Albert Museum: 19627, © V&A, 2014

J.McNeven, J. (draughtsman (artist)), William Simpson (lithographer), Ackermann & Co. (publisher), ‘The transept from the Grand Entrance, Souvenir of the Great Exhibition’, 1851 (printed and published), print, Victoria and Albert Museum: 19627, © V&A, 2014

 

 

 

Developing from a seed of an idea in the 1840s, the 1851 Great Exhibition has largely been recorded in history as a resounding success. Gathering together designed, manufactured, raw and natural objects and materials from across the world, Paxton’s glistening Crystal Palace has been celebrated for many reasons. Not only was the exhibition an enormous diplomatic success, peacefully bringing together many nations at a time of great political uncertainty, but it also successfully displayed the wonders of the British Empire and its developed techniques of industrial production to an international audience.

However, not everyone considered the exhibition an unqualified triumph. The exhibition had also been intended as an educational tool. Although British technology was well advanced by the middle of the nineteenth century, the quality of product design had not kept pace. The exhibition’s organisers therefore hoped that collating some of the best-designed objects from across the world would provide inspiration for British manufactures and improve the quality of their goods.

Although the exhibition may have had a positive affect on the quality of British design in the long run, in the short term it only served to emphasise commentators’ concerns about the quality of British design! Once the exhibition had closed, observers began to comment on the questionable taste of many of the British manufactured items on display. Although contemporaries admitted that the new technologies of machine production were impressive advancements, they were highly critical of the aesthetic schemes they were used to create. Criticism was mainly directed at machine manufactured items that tried too hard to imitate natural forms or deceptively used cheap materials to imitate those of better quality.

Although design manuals, pattern books, polemical tracts and scholarly histories of design had flourished in the early nineteenth century, alongside increased emphasis on artistic education, none of these publications or educational schemes seemed to have made any difference to British design. Therefore, in response to the 1851 Exhibition, a new round of publications emerged that re-emphasised the need to improve art and design education. In his Report on Design (1851) and On the Necessity of Principles in Teaching Design (1853), Richard Redgrave outlined the need to provide better design education for artists and designers. While in Wissenschaft, Industrie, und Kunst, Gottfried Semper promoted public art and as means of improving the general public’s taste. It was also decided that some of the surplus money raised in association with the 1851 Exhibition would be used was to improve art and design education in Britain. Headed up by Henry Cole (assisted by Richard Redgrave), the Department of Practical Art was established within the government to improve the quality of artistic training and educate the general public about ‘good design’.

Initially based in Marlborough House, the Department of Practical Art established a small Museum of Manufactures (later renamed the Museum of Ornamental Arts and eventually leading to the establishment of the present day Victoria and Albert Museum), which displayed objects of ‘good design’ largely purchased at the 1851 Great Exhibition. This permanent collection was supplemented with temporary exhibitions of borrowed exemplary items, including pieces of George VI’s Sevres porcelain found in Buckingham Palace. While most of these exhibitions displayed examples of admirable design, one exhibition entitled ‘False Principles in Design’ (1852), included objects considered to be of ‘bad taste’, intended to educate visitors about what not to buy. However, although those who organised this exhibition considered the objects on displayed to be examples of ‘bad design’, most of the products were also very commercially successful. Popular with the public, the choice of items bemused the public rather than converting them to the principles Cole was trying to emphasise. Furthermore, despite having the support of Prince Albert, the exhibition had to be swiftly closed when the manufactures named in the exhibition took great offence at their inclusion and aggressively campaigned against it.

Furnishing fabric, Lancashire, England, ca.1850, glazed, roller-printed cotton, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.10-1933, © V&A, 2014 In this description of this item in the Exhibition of ‘False Principles in Design’, this print on this fabric was criticised for too closely imitating nature.

Furnishing fabric, Lancashire, England, ca.1850, glazed, roller-printed cotton, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.10-1933, © V&A, 2014 In this description of this item in the Exhibition of ‘False Principles in Design’, this print on this fabric was criticised for too closely imitating nature.

Candlestick, Birmingham, England, 1852, electroplated nickel silver, Victoria and Albert Museum, M.58-2000, © V&A, 2014 In this description of this item in the Exhibition of ‘False Principles in Design’, it was noted that the form of this candle stick looked more like the result of chance than design.

Candlestick, Birmingham, England, 1852, electroplated nickel silver, Victoria and Albert Museum, M.58-2000, © V&A, 2014 In this description of this item in the Exhibition of ‘False Principles in Design’, it was noted that the form of this candle stick looked more like the result of chance than design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following in the footsteps of the Museum of Manufactures, the 1862 International Exhibition was also intended to display examples of good design and educate the public about ‘good taste’. Belatedly marking the ten-year anniversary of the 1851 Exhibition, 1862 was also intended to illustrate progress in British design since the embarrassments of its predecessor. In addition to the manufactured items on display, the 1862 Exhibition included an art gallery. Fine art had been noticeably absent from the 1851 Exhibition and its inclusion at 1862 was an explicit attempt to improve taste, but also demonstrate the breadth of Britain’s aesthetic abilities.

Britain was not alone in fearing the decline of design and the rise of bad taste in the middle of the nineteenth century. Connected to the transformations brought about by the Industrial Revolution, the whole of Europe was gripped by a fear of declining taste; associating it with broader social patterns of political change and potential revolution. However, as Natalie demonstrated last week, concern about national taste wasn’t simply a product of that particular historical moment and examples of attempted taste formation can be found throughout history.

Response, Natalie Bradbury

As this exchange has shown, there are several parallels to be drawn between the Great Exhibitions and Pictures for Schools. The emphasis of the nineteenth-century Great Exhibitions was showcasing and inspiring through the new and cutting edge. Likewise Pictures for Schools, in its insistence on original artworks as opposed to reproductions, prioritised introducing children to the art of their own country and their own time as a way of developing their aesthetic taste – although, unlike the ‘False Principles in Design’ exhibition of 1852, it didn’t go as far as showing examples of ‘bad design’, preferring instead to showcase examples of artworks carefully selected as being particularly suitable for schools. However the discussion of how the Great Exhibition of 1862 influenced High Victorian taste in Ruth’s piece made me realise how many questions I have left to answer around taste and Pictures or Schools. For example, in a post-war schools context is it possible to evaluate the exhibitions’ success and judge the actual impact Pictures for Schools had on students’ taste, and if so, how?

© Natalie Bradbury and Ruth Mason, 2014

 

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‘Taste’ and its creators: 1862 and beyond (Part 1)

Explanation

Over the next two weeks Natalie Bradbury and Ruth Mason (one of the editors of Visit1862.com) will be entering into a conversation about the process of taste formation.

Natalie is currently a PhD researcher at the University of Central Lancashire looking at Pictures for Schools, a scheme founded by painter and educator Nan Youngman which ran from 1947 to 1969 and aimed to get original works of art into schools. As well as focusing biographically on Youngman, she is particularly interested in the relation between art education, art appreciation and post-war themes of citizenship, taste, modernity and reconstruction. She blogs about her research process and archival finds at www.picturesforschools.wordpress.com.

Natalie and Ruth met in November 2013. Although studying very different periods, individuals and institutions it became apparent that they were both interested in the process of taste formation and how ‘good taste’ has been considered a value that can be easily enshrined in the general public since before the 1862 International Exhibition and beyond.

This week Natalie’s post explores the post-Second World War Pictures for Schools project and its role in forming children’s taste. While, next week, Ruth will consider the role the 1862 International Exhibition in forming Britain’s taste in the nineteenth century. Both Natalie and Ruth will make a short response to each other’s posts and we warmly encourage more comments, questions and further discussion points.

Taste formation and Pictures for Schools, Natalie Bradbury

The idea of working to raise standards of public taste to counteract perceived shortcomings in education, urban environments and industrial design has been a topic of discussion among governments, educators, critics and other social and cultural authorities since the days of the industrial revolution. This discourse intensified again after the Second World War, when post-war reconstruction offered new opportunities for rebuilding Britain’s towns and cities, reshaping the education system and altering the experience of being in society. Changing the nation’s tastes through increased access to art, culture and improved leisure opportunities was seen as playing an important part in this.

In 1945, Henry Morris, Director of Education for Cambridgeshire, argued that schools should be exemplars of beautiful environments and appropriate design and thereby set the standard for ‘lifting the standard of taste of the whole community’. Morris had already started to put this into action locally with his network of ‘village colleges’, which provided pleasant and spacious learning environments incorporating original works of art. In 1947, following in Morris’ footsteps, educator and artist Nan Youngman, who had been Morris’s Art Adviser since 1944, set out on a great educational crusade. She aimed to get original, contemporary artworks into schools across the country: on the walls, in classrooms, in pride of place in entrance foyers and finally, in art rooms, where they could be passed around and handled by children. This, she hoped, would introduce children to objects – seen by the experts who selected them for exhibition as being suitable for schools – that were well-designed and well-crafted, and created by artists of the children’s ‘own country’ and ‘own time’. Through this, children would become accustomed to being surrounded by good original examples or art and design, as opposed to the standardised and uninspiring reproductions of old masters which many schools relied on for visual stimulus. Through a series of annual exhibitions and sales of work in London entitled Pictures for Schools, which continued until 1969, she found a willing new market for art in schools and local education authorities, who bought thousands of artworks which were often used as the basis for county collections and loan schemes. The exhibitions also welcomed school groups, who visited from all over the country.

Pictures for Schools was buoyed by by post-war educational ideals of educational equality and a democratisation of art and culture. In many ways, it carried forward the desire to bring art to the masses, both for their education and enjoyment, of organisations such as the Artists International Association, which whom Nan Youngman had been involved in the 1930s and early 1940s, with their affordable print schemes for the public and work to increase patronage for the struggling artist. Another element driving the exhibitions was a preoccupation with taste. As the 1948 Pictures for Schools sending-in form, distributed to potential contributing artists, explained: “To see and live with such works is an essential part of the formation of taste and judgement, alongside the equally essential practice of the arts by children.”

The keywords here are both ‘taste’ and ‘judgement’. As the sending-in form highlights, for the organisers of Pictures for Schools art education involved two equally essential elements: firstly, the practice of art and, secondly (acknowledging that not every child would grow up to be a practising artist), the appreciation and enjoyment of art through exposure to artworks, particularly original artworks, in schools and as part of children’s everyday lives. The first function was linked very much with the development of the individual child. Here, Youngman drew on art educator Marion Richardson’s theories of child-centred education, developed during her time as a teacher of both children and art teachers, including a conception of art education as enabling children’s self-expression and personal growth. The second function of art education was linked by the organisers of Pictures for Schools more explicitly with the child as a social being. Art education was seen as a way of improving the taste of the nation as a whole. This was a common theme in educational discourse in the 1920s and 1930s, including in the theories and writing of Marion Richardson. In her book Art and the Child, published posthumously in 1948 but drawing on her experiences in the preceding decades, Richardson argued that only by practising art and seeing examples of good arts and crafts as children would future consumers be able to recognise good examples of art and design and reject the ‘shoddy’ or the ‘second-rate’. This involved learning to exercise, and internalise, standards of criticism and discernment as a child, which would enable them to produce, and to later recognise in others, genuinely-motivated pieces of art drawing from their own needs, interests and experience, and reject anything that was superficial or produced insincerely.

In keeping with this emphasis on developing and strengthening students’ capacity for individual judgment, the Pictures for Schools exhibitions incorporated an important element of critical looking. Children who visited the exhibitions were asked to vote for their favourite artworks on display, and to fill out questionnaires about what they saw. Questions aimed to encourage them to look carefully at the artworks and what was around them, rather than merely listening to adults’ opinions, and lead them to their own conclusions about what made one artwork more effective or appealing than another.

In the nineteenth century public taste had been seen as coming under threat from increased mass production and cheap goods. To this, in the twentieth century, particularly after the Second World War, were added concerns about a perceived ‘Americanisation’ of culture. Children were seen as being particularly vulnerable to external influences such as advertisements and Hollywood movies. This led to calls from both educators and the government for education to develop the skills of ‘discrimination’ and criticism in children to enable them to make effective judgements about what was real and unreal, genuine or fake. In this context, post-war educators’ conceptions of taste cannot be seen as just relying on experts to choose objects representing a particular vision of taste to be conveyed to the masses. The idea of taste, as promoted by educators such as Richardson and Youngman, is closely linked with a strong element of criticality. For them, education, particularly art education, involved equipping children with the skills to make taste judgements from within, based upon their individual outlook, choices and preferences, rather than passively accepting standards and products dictated, marketed or chosen for them by others.

Response, Ruth Mason

I was struck by a number of things while reading this post. Firstly, it is interesting that the improvement of taste was considered the result of prolonged exposure to art. Children’s taste could not be improved through one off encounters. Secondly, the pieces of art intended to inform children’s taste were brought to them. Rather than being taken to a special event to see pieces of good design, these tasteful objects infiltrated children’s natural habits, normalizing good taste, but also arguably taking children unawares. Stealth taste formation! Finally, children were encouraged to enter into active relationships with these pieces of art, active responses considered more effective forms of education. It will be interesting to see how these principles of taste formation compare with those used in relation to the 1862 International Exhibition and the course of the nineteenth century – read next week’s post to find out!

© Natalie Bradbury and Ruth Mason, October 2014

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Aesthetic Analysis and Visitors’ Experience of the 1862 International Exhibition

Edmund Walker 'Exterior of the International Exhibition of 1862', watercolour, 1862-1882, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1111-1901 © V&A, 2014

Edmund Walker ‘Exterior of the International Exhibition of 1862’, watercolour, 1862-1882, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1111-1901 © V&A, 2014

On 27th and 28th June 2014, the editors of visit1862 had the pleasure of being part of the London Conference of Critical Thought.  Presenting on a panel of rare historical voices within the conference’s discussions about Deleuze, the everyday political, the human as cyborg, and much more, we were given the opportunity to explore how thinking theoretically can provide new insights into the 1862 International Exhibition. [1]

As historians our relationship with theory is complicated.  Studying the nineteenth century with theories developed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries could be considered highly questionable.  Therefore, part of the purpose of the paper we presented at the LCCT was to demonstrate how we do not use theory as a model with which to construct narratives of the past, but are interested in how theory raises questions about the past.  Our paper presented the way we use theory, explaining how we start with the historical sources, consider what they can potentially reveal and then, where necessary, utilise appropriate theoretical frameworks to pose questions of them that facilitate comprehensive appreciation of their value.

An adaption of the paper we gave, this post is an exploration of how aesthetics can contribute to the exploration of visitors’ experiences at the 1862 Exhibition, which is at the heart of the visit1862 project.  Despite the bulging literature on nineteenth and twentieth-century international exhibitions and regular analysis of the relative aesthetic success of these buildings and their displays, comparatively little has been written about visitors’ experiences of such events.  This bias is partly due to the scant number of existing first-hand accounts written by visitors.  However, we argue that consideration of the materiality of the exhibition can provide a means of bypassing this apparent gap in the historical archive.

The Theoretical Framework

Edmund Walker, 'Interior of the International Exhibition of 1862', 1862, watercolour, 74.5 x 104.6 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1110-1901 © V&A, 2014

Edmund Walker, ‘Interior of the International Exhibition of 1862’, 1862, watercolour, 74.5 x 104.6 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1110-1901 © V&A, 2014

Nineteenth-century sources suggest that contemporaries considered looking to be very important at the 1862 exhibition, as it was intended to instigate good taste, inspire developments in future design and educate the visitor about the world they lived in. Therefore consideration of the visual aesthetic engagements visitors’ made at this event will provide some insight into how the exhibition was experienced.

However, we would also like to suggest that visitors’ aesthetic engagements with the exhibition went beyond visual appreciation.  Drawing on expanding definitions of aesthetics, which have developed since the 1970s and 80s, we shall be defining ‘aesthetic experience’ as any engagement made by a human’s mind, body or soul with something that, in someway, can be defined as ‘beautiful’.  Therefore, aesthetic encounters can be made through any of the body’s senses – not just the cognitive processes of the mind – and beauty can be found in everyday activities, as much as in pieces of fine art.

Consequently, we suggest that it is equally important to think about what people smelt, heard, tasted, touched and saw.  Additionally, we think about the aesthetic engagements visitors had with objects that were on display, but we also want to discuss the more ‘everyday’ aesthetic experiences they had in the exhibition space.

The main purpose of defining aesthetic experience like this is that it facilitates consideration of the tension between intended and experienced aesthetic experiences at the 1862 Exhibition.  The exhibition’s organisers hoped that their displays of industrial creations, decorative products and fine arts would encourage creativity and innovation in design and manufacturing and improve the visiting public’s taste.  However, consideration of many of the events held in the exhibition and how they were written about in the press, demonstrates that aesthetic experiences at the exhibition were much more complicated than the organisers’ stated aims.

Visual aesthetics

British Picture Gallery, 1862 International Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1550-1927 © V&A, 2014

British Picture Gallery, 1862 International Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1550-1927 © V&A, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin, how did visitors’ make visual aesthetic engagements and how did they contribute to visitors’ experiences?

While no fine art had been displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition, 1862 hosted a grand selection of art in a specifically constructed gallery.  More than any other part of the exhibition, this gallery was intended to induce aesthetic appreciation and improve visitors’ aesthetic taste through visual engagement with objective beauty.

However, commentators’ reflections on the fine art gallery demonstrate that the art’s aesthetic qualities did not always have such noble consequences.  In May 1862, Punch published a cartoon accompanied by the following caption:

CAUTION – (To the two young ladies in pink bonnets who expressed such enthusiasm about Mr. B. Stubb’s pictures, and would so like to see that “dear Mr.Stubbs”) The tall young man who on overhearing the above praise, wetted his pocket-handkerchief, and removed an imaginary speck of dust from Mr. S’s picture, thereby trying to convey the impression that he was the fortunate man who had painted it, is some imprudent imposter, and never touched a canvas before in his life.  Mr. B Stubbs is a good-looking short man, with wideawake, auburn-beard and spectacles.

The cartoon illustrated a pretentious young gentleman who, on hearing two young ladies praises for one of Mr. Stubb’s works, pretended to be the artist in an attempt to impress them.  Bending down with his handkerchief, he made as if to wipe a speck of dusk off his masterpiece, while ‘a good-looking short man, with wideawake, auburn-beard and spectacles’ (Mr Stubbs himself) observed with disapproval from behind.

Obviously, the cartoon was not reflecting a real event, but nevertheless demonstrates that nineteenth-century society was aware that within the space of the art gallery, not everything was necessarily how it appeared.  Although intended to foster taste and morality, this context could also allowed for disguise, trickery and deceit.

Alongside such engagements with ‘fine art’, there were also moments of visual aesthetic engagement of a more everyday character.

Nineteenth-century images often show visitors to the 1862 Exhibition with a guidebook in hand. Written for different audiences, these texts provided instructions on what to see, what to appreciate, and advice upon how to get the most out of a visit.  As design historians, we have become very interested by the materiality and physical attributes of these books as objects.  Many of these books included maps, ground plans, and other illustrations.  Therefore, visitors would have visually connected with these technical drawings in these books and employed their guidebooks as tools for navigation and negotiation through the 1862 Exhibition.  Additionally, the agency of the books continued after the event as many of their prefaces stated that they were also designed to be displayed as ‘coffee table’ books.  This secondary purpose resulted in these books functioning as indicators of cultural capital and their drawings becoming mnemonic devices that enabled visitors to continue their experience of the exhibition.  Furthermore, the iterative process of continually re-reading these guidebooks, made the aesthetic engagements visitors had made at the exhibition part of their everyday lives.

Other senses and aesthetic experiences

The sounds, smells and surface textures that visitors experienced at the 1862 Exhibition would also have contributed to their aesthetic experiences.

In the Swiss Court at the 1862 Exhibition, there was a mechanical singing Bullfinch that had a surprisingly significant effect on visitors.  Wound-up periodically during the day, the song the bird sang was so beautiful that it drew a crowd from across the exhibition! However, this was a problem.  The Illustrated London News reported that the numbers of spectators the bird drew caused havoc and posed a threat to other exhibits in close proximity – displays were knocked as people jostled to see the calling bird.  In the end, to everyone’s disappointment, the Exhibition’s officials had to ask the Swiss to stop winding up the mechanical bird, the disturbance it caused deemed too problematic to be easily controlled and calmed.

This not only demonstrates the power a beautiful sound had on those who visited the exhibition – but also how the exhibition’s organisers had not expected this sound’s non-visual beauty to cause such a dramatic response.

Physical materialities

The physical materials that visitors touched while they were in the exhibition would also have influenced their aesthetic responses.  It is likely that visitors were able to touch some of the objects on display.  However, visitors would have also entered into much less pleasant touch relationships.  Contemporary descriptions of visiting the exhibition paint a crowded picture.  When Sir Frederic Madden, Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, attended the exhibition’s opening ceremony, he described how ‘every corner was packed closely with genteel people’.  The volume of visitors continued to be high throughout, 25% more visitors attending the 1862 Exhibition than the 1851 Exhibition. Therefore, visitors would have felt each other as they moved through the space – desirable or undesirable, depending on one’s perspective!

Conclusion

Applying aesthetic theories to the 1862 Exhibition can helpfully contribute to visit1862’s project of exploring visitors’ experiences.  Thinking about aesthetic experiences as sensory responses to high art, natural beauty and the beauty of the everyday has allowed us to think about how the exhibition encapsulated aesthetic responses to the high arts and the everyday.  It has facilitated discussion about how sounds, smells and touch and sight contributed to visitors’ experiences of the event.  And it has demonstrated that the way visitors’ experienced the 1862 Exhibition was not always the way in which its organisers had intended.

 

[1] Our paper was a contribution to the ‘Street Level: Towards a critical discourse on urban aesthetics’ stream (organized by Sam Barton, Tim Ivison and Ruth Mason), and we presented our paper in a panel that brought together reflections of urban aesthetics from various different periods in time.

 

© Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason, 2014

 

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Call for Papers – Materiality and Historical Geography – International Conference of Historical Geographers, London July 2015

As already announced the editors of visit1862 are going to be running a field visit to South Kensington as part of the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers (ICHG) (click here to read this post)

The ICHG provides an opportunity for historical geographers to meet and discuss new and emerging directions within the field.  The following is a call for papers for a proposed session at the event that aims to encourage discussion about the role of materiality in historical geographic research.

Historical Change in South Kensington © Ruth Mason, 2013 This photograph shows evidence of the many building phases of the cultural quarter - note the Royal College of Art in the background

Historical Change in South Kensington © Ruth Mason, 2013

Materiality and Historical Geography

Material culture has long been identified as a potentially useful source for historical, geographical, sociological and anthropological studies.  But what can material culture (defined in the broadest sense to embrace: objects, things, ephemera, buildings, urban and rural landscapes, the natural and the man made, the animate and the inanimate, the human and the non-human) offer historical geographies?

Anthropologists and sociologists have entered into detailed debates about the definition of ‘material culture’ and what it contributes to research (Miller, Ingold and Latour).  In response, historical geography seminars and publications have made increasing references to material sources – or the materiality of sources.  However, there has been little discussion about the role and potential of using material culture as a source, or what it can contribute to historical geography research.  What sorts of material objects can historical geographers engage with?  How can they engage with them?  And how does engaging with material sources contribute to the development of the discipline?

Papers are encouraged that use specific case studies to demonstrate how material culture can be used as a source for historical geography research.  It is hoped that by bring papers together that consider different material sources and approaches will encourage further discussion about the relationship between material culture and historical geography. Papers concerned with a broad range of material sources, take diverse approaches to material culture, and focus on any time period or geographical area of study, are all welcome.

Submissions from graduate students, early career scholars and those in established posts are all welcome. Please contact ruth.mason.13[at]ucl.ac.uk for further information.

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to ruth.mason.13[at]ucl.ac.uk by 1st September 2014.  In a separate paragraph, please provide details of any special audio-visual requirements or mobility requirements.  A decision on the papers to be submitted for consideration by the convenors of the International Historical Geography Conference, 2015 will be made on the 14th September.  For further details about the International Historical Geography Conference, please click here to go to the ICHG website.

Ruth Mason, Department of Geography, University College London.

© Ruth Mason, 2014

 

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The 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers: Field Visit

Field Visit at the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geographers

South Kensington and the 1862 International Exhibition

The editors of visit1862.com are delighted to announce that on Wednesday 8th July 2015 (thinking ahead!) we shall be running a day trip around South Kensington as part of the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geography (ICHG).  To be held at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in South Kensington, this bonanza of all things historically geographic will run throughout the week, but provides delegates with a chance to stretch their legs and escape the confines of the RGS with a day of planned field trips throughout London and beyond.

In a variety of trips, delegates will have the chance to visit the Geffrye Museum and discover more about the historical geographies of the home, explore the economic botany collection at Kew Gardens or learn more about the historical geography of hop picking in Kent!

The editors of visit1862 will be running a trip around South Kensington structured by the 1862 International Exhibition and its legacy.  Beginning with a walking tour around the original site of the building, we shall discuss the impact which the exhibition, and the culture of exhibition practices which it belonged, has had a lasting impact on South Kensington’s physical and metaphysical characteristics.  Finishing at the Albert Memorial, the walking tour will reflect on the area’s architectural history, geographical layout and cultural significance.  Once refuelled, the trip will restart in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s National Art Library.  Delegates will be given the opportunity to handle a range of materials related to the exhibition, including official catalogues, popular guidebooks and contemporary reflections on the exhibition made in the media.  The day will then conclude with a short tour of the V&A’s galleries to introduce delegates to some of the objects displayed at the 1862 International Exhibition and subsequently purchased by the museum.

The editors are very much looking forward to the ICHG and hope that it will provoke conversation about the 1862 International Exhibition within historical geography circles and bring new questions to the fore in our research as we engage with geographers interested in exhibitionary cultures, the nineteenth century and a variety of further potential subjects.

If this has wetted your appetite, you can have a look at visit1862’s photo essay, recording the route of the 1862 International Exhibition in contemporary photographs: http://visit1862.com/2013/12/06/walking-1862/

More information about the 2015 International Conference of Historical Geography can be found at: http://www.ichg2015.org/

Specific reference to the Wednesday field trips available at: http://www.ichg2015.org/conference-information/field-trips/

We hope you can join us – Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason

 

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An Aeroplane: View from the Compound

An Aeroplane: View from the Compound, Alexandra Palace Civil Internment Camp, Rudolf Helmut Sauter, 1918, Oil on panel, 27.5 x 35.4 cm. © Imperial War Museum

An Aeroplane: View from the Compound, Alexandra Palace Civil Internment Camp, Rudolf Helmut Sauter, 1918, Oil on panel, 27.5 x 35.4 cm. © Imperial War Museum

Painted in 1918, during the First World War, this impressionistic, almost Fauvist, painting depicts the view from Alexandra Palace.  A German artist who studied in London and Munich, Sauter was confined to Alexandra Palace between 1918 and 1919 while the building and grounds were used as an internment camp for German and Austrian civilians.  German and Austrian men of fighting age residing in Britain, were arrested by the British Government and detained in Alexandra Palace between 1915 and 1919.

Presenting an unexpected opportunity for the Editors of visit1862 to join in the commemorations of the centenary of the beginning of World War One, this painting also reveals more of the hidden layers of Alexandra Palace’s history.  Not only was it initially built with the materials recycled from the 1862 International Exhibition building (see Picnic at the Palace), but it was also burnt down and rebuilt several times, used as a transmission centre by the BBC, destroyed by further fire and used as an internment camp during the First World War.

These many historical layers therefore this building with meaning and significance, even if the mists of time often obscure this narrative, much like the smudged and foggy reflections on reality Sauter made while imprisoned within its confines.  However, helping us to reflect on the many alternative stories and experiences which visitors to Alexandra Palace have had, this painting serves as an exciting reminder that because experience is never static, historical sites always have multiple stories to tell – both corporal and individual.

 

© Helen Cresswell and Ruth Mason, 2014

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