The 19th century was a period of huge growth in Britain, which had a profound effect on art and design. The Industrial Revolution saw Britain become a major manufacturing power, as displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Victorian period saw the British Empire reach its peak, and designers increasingly looked to the East for inspiration.
The fashion of the 19th century is renowned for its corsets, bonnets, top hats, bustles and petticoats. Women’s fashion during the Victorian period was largely dominated by full skirts, which gradually moved to the back of the silhouette. However, towards the end of the period, the less restrictive Aesthetic style began to emerge.
The scale of Britain's industrial expansion during the 19th century was enormous and unprecedented. Fuelled by a rapid increase in international trade and a growing middle-class demand for consumer goods, Britain led the world in the development of rail networks and steamships.
The Great Exhibition
The Great Exhibition in 1851 was the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was organised by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, and held in a purpose-built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Many of the objects in the Exhibition were used as the first collection for the South Kensington Museum which opened in 1857 and later became the Victoria and Albert Museum.
British Watercolours 1750–1900
The South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and Albert, opened in 1857. The first catalogue of the museum's collection of watercolours was published only nineteen years later in 1876, by which time the museum had acquired nearly 500 watercolours, today the collection numbers many thousands.
Constable was born in 1776 at East Bergholt. He began his professional career as a student at the Royal Academy Schools. Following the fashion for painting mountainous, Romantic scenery, he spent some time in Derbyshire and the Lake District, but it was only on his return to the quieter, less spectacular countryside of his native Suffolk that he developed his personal style. The V&A's collections include hundreds of works by Constable, including paintings, drawings and sketchbooks.