Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - September 2017

The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria, engraving by S. Bellin

The Opening of the Great Exhibition, engraving by S. Bellin, 1852.

September's Object of the Month has been chosen by Year 10 work experience student Fergus. The object in question is an engraving by S. Bellin entitled The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria from about 1852.

The Great Exhibition was opened in May 1851. It was designed to demonstrate national industry as well as industry in other countries. Many important figures attended including government officials and military commanders. Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were also present. The latter was a key figure in the design of the Great Exhibition and the construction of the purpose-built Crystal Palace where the Great Exhibition was held. The engraving by Bellin is a detailed reproduction of an oil painting by Henry Courtney Selous. The oil painting can be viewed here http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O8820/the-opening-of-the-great-oil-painting-selous-henry-courtney/.  

The engraving depicts a scene in the Crystal Palace (demolished in 1936) in Hyde Park showing  Queen Victoria and other members of the royal family as well as military officials and ambassadors from other countries.There are signs hanging above the crowds with names of different countries. This highlights all of the different countries represented. There are also two statues of Victoria and Albert on the left and right hand side of the engraving. Victoria’s statue is further forward than Albert’s which emphasises her importance over everybody in the nation.

In the centre of the engraving you can see Queen Victoria with Prince Albert on her right hand side.  By the Queen’s feet are the royal children. The boy closest to her can be assumed to be her eldest son Edward. This is likely because Edward would have been a 10 year old boy at the time and the heir to the throne – his proximity to the Queen in the engraving symbolises his importance as the heir.

On the left hand side of the engraving, you can see officers from the Horse Guards. Due to the main purpose of the Great Exhibition (which was for Britain to display its dominance to other nations) we can assume that these officers were placed in positions  that made them seem equal to leaders of other nations to show Britain’s military dominance. On the right hand side of the engraving you can see important world figures. They can all be seen on a lower level whereas Queen Victoria can be seen on a stage-like platform which emphasises the Queen’s importance (at this venue at least).

Fergus says: “I chose this object because it is an excellent example of British history of that period and shows Britain’s importance to the rest of the world. You can clearly see how the engraving makes Britain look superior to the other nations that are present."

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