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.
Watercolours of the Great Exhibition
These eleven watercolours were made just before the Great Exhibition opened and 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.
Industry, Religion and the British Empire
The mid-Victorians were convinced that their way of life was not only better but also quite unlike that known by their predecessors. The birth of industrialism, discoveries in science and a developing understanding of the natural world were all tangible evidence of progress.
National Art Library Great Exhibition collection
The National Art Library holds a number of collections relating to the International Exhibitions including documentation on the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Schools of Design and the papers of Sir Henry Cole, the first Director of the South Kensington Museum (renamed the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1899).
Study Room resource: The Great Exhibition
Prints and drawings that are not on display in the galleries can be seen in the Prints and Drawings Study Room. To make it easier for teachers and lecturers to access the most popular material with groups, we have developed themed study room resources, such as this one on the Great Exhibition of 1851, which contain original prints and drawings.
Video: A day at The Great Exhibition
This video tells the story of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was an enormously popular event and people came from all over the UK and abroad to visit the Crystal Palace and its incredible contents. Extracts from contemporary diaries give us an idea of the impact of the Exhibition, and the experiences of the many visitors. The extracts are from authors as diverse as Queen Victoria herself, the author Charlotte Brönte, and Mary Smith, a school-teacher from Oxfordshire.
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.
History of the V&A
The Victoria and Albert Museum's collections span two thousand years of art in virtually every medium, from many parts of the world, and visitors to the Museum encounter a treasure house of amazing and beautiful objects. The story of the V&A's foundation helps to explain its astonishing richness and diversity.