The series of annual international exhibitions held during the early 1870s at South Kensington, London, were not particularly successful, or popular, but they were influential in the history of exhibitions. The alleged failures and the cancellation of the final annual exhibition halfway through the intended decade-long series of events provoked considerable discussion about the purpose, scale and expectations for exhibitions, which were no longer novel or limited to a particular city or nation-state. There were some successes, notably for the Australian colonies and British India, and for very specific trades and exhibitors, but the public discussion and those limited successes have generally failed to capture the attention of scholars. These events are rarely mentioned in books and articles about exhibitions and, when discussed, are considered to be failures without merit. This BRANCH contribution recognizes that other exhibitions were more popular and more successful, but also recognizes that the South Kensington shows were significant in addressing criticisms of exhibitions in general and in the generational history of both the shows and their organizers. The 1870s proved to be a pivotal period in the history of such exhibitions and the consideration of what merited public culture. The mantle was passed from Sir Henry Cole to his successors and the ambition of holding annual international exhibitions was replaced by more thematic shows in Britain and bold international shows in the Australian colonies. Amidst the general impressions of failure, there were also successes at the shows and those highlighted how inter-national exhibitions could prove useful in a changing world.
British art museums developed along substantially different lines than those in Continental Europe. Rather than create a centrally supported or designed system of cultural provision, the British Parliament passed permissive legislation in the middle of the nineteenth century that allowed localities to choose to establish public libraries and museums. Cities thus founded art museums independently, at the instigation of committed local reformers and benefactors, while most national institutions proceeded by Parliamentary acts rather than through the nationalization of royal collections. A generation later, inspired by the works of John Ruskin and the new aesthetic of Pre-Raphaelitism, many men (and some women) pushed their cities to create art museums not primarily as a means to educate the public about art history, but to counteract the toxic effects of the moral and physical ugliness of industrial capitalism, and of industrial cities in particular. The resulting institutions formed a new kind of domesticated public space, bringing together ideas about the middle-class home as a refuge and about beauty as a means of “improving” the working classes. However, John Ruskin himself often criticized these efforts as too accommodating of industrial society.
This entry connects the Spanish American independence movements of the 1820s to the emergence of new pathways of trans-Atlantic cultural exchange. It shows that Britain’s political recognition of the new republics opened a two-way channel in which things, commodities, persons, and ideas flowed back and forth, affecting culture and politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Focusing particularly on Britain’s relations with Mexico, this entry examines key moments in the immediate British response to Spanish American independence.
The revolutionary year of 1848 has been seen as producing little effect on art in Britain. However, the turn to visual culture, which considers a broad spectrum of material including prints, illustrated periodicals, advertisements and other popular and ephemeral forms of visual production, allows this assumption to be rethought. By decentralizing the notion of an originary moment of formal innovation among a select group of avant-garde painters, as has been emphasized with regard to Paris, and turning to British visual culture, the effects of revolution become diffuse and plural. As a result, chronologies need to be rethought, and the revolutions of 1848 and the Great Exhibition of the Work of Industry of All Nations of 1851 reconnected.
The Crystal Palace at Sydenham represents a number of key paradigms in Victorian culture: the emphasis upon visuality as a means of acquiring and conveying knowledge, the use of display as a vehicle of both education and entertainment, the desire to construct unifying historical narratives, and the emphasis upon rational recreation.