The Art of Fireworks

With Bonfire Night tonight, and Diwali celebrations last weekend, the sky has been particularly full of colourful sparks recently. But you don’t always have to gaze up to the night sky to see a beautiful display. Take a look in the V&A’s collections and you will discover that fireworks have been inspiring artists all over the world for centuries.

Print, 1784. Museum no. S.354-2009. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The fireworks held by these 18th-century Rajasthani women celebrating Diwali are a bit more impressive than our modern day sparklers. The flares in their hands merge together to form a beautiful tree of golden sparks.

Painting, unknown artist, 18th Century. Museum no. IM.104-1922. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This woodblock print from 19th-century Japan depicting revellers on Ryogoku Bridge in Edo (Tokyo) shows that we have always enjoyed gathering together, looking up to the sky and saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ in unison.

Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge, woodblock print, Utagawa Toyokuni, 1820-1825. Museum no. E.4900:1, 2-1886. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This snuffbox from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection was made in about 1870. However, the miniature on top, featuring fireworks over the Seine in Paris, was painted over a hundred years earlier in 1761. There was actually no known firework display in Paris in 1761, so the scene might in fact be a depiction of the celebrations for birth of the Dauphin in 1730 or the recovery from illness of King Louis XV in 1744. We may never know for sure.

Snuffbox, van Blarenberghe family, 1761 (painted), about 1870 (made). Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.360-2008. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

And it is not just paintings and drawings that feature fireworks in their designs. This delicate Fireworks bowl was part of an exhibition of Swedish industrial art in London in 1931.

Fireworks bowl; Fyrverkeriskålen, Edward Hald (designer), Orrefors (manufacturers), 1921 (designed), 1930 (made). Museum no. CIRC.52&A-1931. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

More objects inspired by rockets, bangers and Catherine wheels can be explored through Search the Collections.

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