Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Crystal Palace: An historical patchwork

Fuzzy photographs and lithographs. Piecing together research for the Crystal Palace is like trying to complete a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of the components missing.

A patchwork of information and a patchwork of pattern.

The Crystal Palace, 1851

The Crystal Palace: blurred images - filling in the gaps

The Crystal Palace, 1851

The Crystal Palace, 1854 - lithograph

©British Heritage The Crystal Palace, 1854 - The Alhambra Court : Owen Jones

Owen Jones’s interpretation of the Alhambra Palace inside The Crystal Palace is known as one of the best examples of Victorian Polychromy ever created.  It is virtually impossible to make out the individual patterns from Delamotte's photographs but Jones relied heavily on his collection of pattern "The Grammar of Ornament" when designing the various Courts inside the Palace.  This was the first book I purchased when I started my Printed Textiles Degree at Manchester Metropolitan University back in 1986 and it soon became my reference bible for pattern and has remained so ever since.

Below are three images of the Doha Tower, Qater under construction which depict a snapshot in my minds eye of how it must have been inside the Crystal Palace - in this case, the layering of Arabic forms over an ironwork structure. 

Doha Tower, Qatar - Jean Nouvel Architecture

Doha Tower, Qatar - Jean Nouvel Architecture: under construction

Doha Tower, Qatar - Jean Nouvel Architecture

Jane Dzisiewski - patchwork star

The Crystal Palace: a patchwork of pattern

Walking around this vast, 'Victorian Pleasure Dome' with exhibits from all over the world must have been a very overwhelming experience.  The "Guide to the Crystal Palace and Park - Facsimile edition of 1856 official guide" lists for example the following Courts:-

Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Alhambra, Assyrian, Bzantine and Romanesque, Medieval, Renaissance, Elizabethan, Italian, Stationary, Birmingham, Sheffield, Pompeian, Musical Instruments, Foreign Glass Manufacture, Ceramic, Sculpture Galleries (English, German, Greek, Roman, French, Italian, Gothic, Renaissance), Portrait Galleries (English, German, Greek, Roman, French, Italian), Industrial, Geology.

The Crystal Palace Guide Book listing 203 of the 217 sculptures within the Greek Court

Alongside the museum like Courts, there were also hundreds of market stalls selling goods from across all the Continents - as well as exhibits of industry, machinery and photography.  What photographs and lithographs there are were mainly taken for advertising purposes, so very little photographic evidence is in existence of the less high brow side to the exhibits within Crystal Palace, or even of the ironwork and glass structure itself.  I find this frustrating because I want to see the nuts and bolts and not just the shiny version of events.  Regardless of this, I primarily see what I always look for and that is pattern and negative space - and I see this everywhere.  I will be be bringing this to my work and filling in the gaps with my interpretation of how the Crystal Palace experience must have been for the visitors. 

The Crystal Palace - lithograph: Open gallery towards the garden

I've included the picture below because it is one of the few images I have seen which actually shows that the Crystal Palace was not just a place for the social elite.  The lithograph above depicts sedate Victorian society enjoying the Crystal Palace in virtual solitude, whereas the Palace was one of the most visited places with over 100 million visitors during its 80 year existence.  This painting by Blaikley is at odds with the normal paraphernalia produced and manages to capture the atmosphere and bustle within the Crystal Palace at the height of its popularity.

The Crystal Palace: Painting of the interior by A. Blaikley 1866

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