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The Great Exhibitor: The Life and Work of Henry Cole


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'A substantial contribution to our understanding of Cole's achievements. Invaluable' - Apollo.

By the end of his life Henry Cole was recognised as a national institution, "Old King Cole", though he was also treated with caution as a "playful monster". He was a lifelong civil servant, in a period when civil servants could be buccaneers and reformers, rather than the modern impassive mandarins. Described as "a clever agitator, and a public spirited fellow", he waged many campaigns, moving from the Public Records to the Penny Post, to railway expansion, to patent law revision, to art and design reform. With Prince Albert, he created the Great Exhibition of 1851, and continued to organise international exhibitions for the remainder of his life. He was responsible for a national system of art and science education, and in collaboration with the Prince, developed the South Kensington area as the intellectual quarter of London.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, of which he was founding Director, remains his best-known memorial, and is a symbol of his mission to educate through the exhibition of objects. This book gives a rounded picture of an extraordinary man. Portrayed, not only as an exhibitor, museum director and educationalist, but also as a galvanic force administering salutary shocks over broad areas of Victorian life. Children's books, hackney cabs, public lavatories, choral singing, cookery, sewage disposal, to name a few subjects, all came under his critical gaze. In his peers, Cole aroused admiration and antipathy in equal measure. Today, he is remembered for his energy and creativity and an inimitable Victorian phenomenon.


256 pages


234 x 156mm



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