Is expensive art and design really considered good taste? This was the question I asked myself once I left to the V and A gallery. I’ve gone to the V and A to visit an exhibition called “British Galleries”, to understand how much design has changed in Britain and how it affected people lives. The point of the Great Exhibition was showcase Great Britain’s capabilities in the industrial industry and their art and design achievement. Although it did house foreign exhibitors as well. The size of Britain’s industrial during the creation of the Great Exhibition was very large, it did increase the growing middle class by demanding of consumer goods and in international trade.
When I entered the gallery, I started with the last room which was the Great Exhibition and worked my way through the whole rooms. Each rooms where based upon the ideas on what the Great Exhibition was about and walking through all this, I got a sense old history. The rooms in itself felt I was in that time period because of the interior, colour and space.
There was one piece that stood out for me, which was the eye-catching white marble statue that resembled nothing around it. After what had been said the week before, it was refreshing to see that this clearly Renaissance-inspired statue was also part of Britain in 1862, and shook me out of my impression that suddenly classic-style art was a thing of the past and Victorian-era Britain was all about patterns and saturated spaces.
The Great Exhibition was built for the purpose of telling people, at the time about what was considered as great art and design or as it put great taste. I think what was meant by this was that if it was expensive then it was regarded as proper. The way the artefacts were displayed were in their specific rooms were effective and also the main panels that discusses what the rooms were so informative, I got a sense of what they were about. However the machines that provided information to the public, was problematic. The information that it provided seemed like it was written for masters and PhD students and it would seem as difficult for someone who was doing degree would understand.
Looking at the artefacts, some of them heavily featured portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There were two pieces that was in the Great Exhibition room that is worth mentioning, one of them is called “Pair of Medal – Winning Vases”. Exhibited in 1851, it helped to advertise the manufacturer and it gave a sense of a journal with eye catching portraits of the Queen and Prince. The vase was manufactured by Charles Meigh & Co in Hanley, Stroke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, the markers used techniques such as stoneware with relief moulding and painted decoration in enamels and gilding to create to this work of art. What makes this piece just so interesting is that Meigh’s may have hoped that the Royal Family would have admired their exhibition vases sufficiently to buy them and it was solely designed for as an exhibition piece and it was never intended for general production as they were so large and expensive to make, so the just functioned as advertisement for the firm’s skills.
“Pair of Medal – Winning Vases”. By Charles Meigh & Co in Hanley, Stroke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, 1846 – 1851.
The armchair is another piece that featured Prince Albert. The chair was created Henry Eyles in 1851 in Bath England, it served as a reminder of his important roles in the planning of the Great Exhibition of 1851.The seat was created to contrast a light and feminine chair but it was intended for masculine use in the 1840’s and 50s. Although it can be seen, there was craved emblems of coat of arm on the back of the chair. It feature the lion, rose, shamrock and thistle, it was put on the chair to emphasise the nationalistic spirit of many British display in the exhibition.
Both pieces were created for the royals in minds for their design, it became a demand however it wasn’t put on the general production, this brings to the question ‘Is expensive Art and Design considered good taste?’ Clearly the vases and armchair are created beautifully and it’s expensive to make however it’s impractical to keep. The arm chair can practical however I would thick based how expensive it could be and the demand from middle class, it’ll be used as an art piece then practical use. I think the designer, William Morris put it best when he quoted “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The collections at the Great Exhibition were clearly unique and exciting for the viewers but when it came to taste, it only appealed to the middle class. People of working class did visit the Great Exhibition but the exhibition was to raise the understanding of industry and to provoke a discussion on the nature of the working class.
Walking around the rooms, the space did differ as I worked through. The space in the Great Exhibition was set up, having the artefacts like chairs, vases and paintings around the room and in the middle; there was a display of the model of crystal place. The model is half of the building and it been reflected on a mirror.
In another room called ‘Arts and Craft’, the artefact was placed on the walls and around the galleries. There were enough room in the centre of the art and craft gallery for people to sit and there was a bust of Queen Victoria near the entrance of the gallery where people climb up the main staircase and enter the room.
There spaces between the rooms give such a different feel for both themes, The space of the Great Exhibition gallery was so filled up with the artefacts and people coming in and out that I need to get closer to artefacts that surrounded the walls to take a picture, so I don’t bump into people walking pass. The Arts and Craft felt better that there was actually a space for me to sit down to write and sketch.
The overall experience at the V and A was a lot to take in. It was enjoyable to say the least but it did leave thoughts about British society, the class system and was expensive taste really appeal to everyone.
For the information I gathered from the pieces that are shown in this post were take and used from the V & A collection. I have left the links below for anyone who are interested in reading more them and any other collection that they have.
- Statue – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O70433/the-sleep-of-sorrow-and-group-monti-raffaelle/
- Arm Chair – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O18955/armchair-eyles-henry/
- Vases – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O8084/vase-and-cover-charles-meigh-co/