Watercolours of the Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of 1851 took place at Hyde Park in a revolutionary glass and iron building known as the 'Crystal Palace'. It included over 13,000 exhibits and was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was extremely popular and attracted more than six million visitors - equivalent to a third of the population of Great Britain at the time. The profits from the exhibition were used to fund several science and art initiatives in South Kensington. They included what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose earliest surviving building was erected 150 years ago.

The eleven watercolours featured here were made just before the Great Exhibition opened. They are part of a larger group of images that were reproduced both as colour and monochrome lithographs in different versions of Recollections of the Great Exhibition, a lavish contemporary souvenir guide.

Many of the objects in the illustrations can be identified in the four-volume catalogue of the exhibition. Copies of this can be accessed via the National Art Library.

The watercolours are recent acquisitions purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Contributing Members of the Friends of the V&A and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. They were on display until 14th January 2008 and are now available to view via the Prints & Drawings Study Room. The colour lithographs are also available to view via the Prints & Drawings Study Room and the monochrome lithographs are available to view via the National Art Library.

Royal Commission Exhibition of 1851

The Art Fund logo

Strawberry Thief Free iPad Game

Strawberry Thief by BAFTA award winning games designer Sophia George is a playful celebration of the work of Victorian designer William Morris. Uncover the famous Arts and Crafts design by drawing on your screen with your finger and watch your iPad transform from blank paper to an animated masterpiece.

Download now

Shop online

The Great Exhibitor: The Life and Work of Henry Cole

The Great Exhibitor: The Life and Work of Henry Cole

A substantial contribution to our understanding of Cole's achievements. Invaluable' Apollo By the end of his life Henry Cole was recognised as a natio…

Buy now

Event - The Great Exhibition and the V&A

Tue 12 May 2015 15:30–16:30

Christopher Marsden, Senior Archivist, talks about the importance of 1851 to the founding of the Museum, and the wealth of material from the Great Exhibition in the collections.

Book online