The Great Exhibition opened on 1 May 1851 and was intended to present the latest and most dazzling technological achievements in the UK since the start of the Industrial Revolution. This watercolour shows the inside of the grandiose glass structure in Hyde Park which housed the exhibition.
The Great Exhibition was held in Crystal Palace, a vast glass structure designed by Joseph Paxton. It was based on the conservatory at Chatsworth Palace and constructed using a million feet of glass. Paxton incorporated trees within the building and a series of magnificent fountains. The huge light-filled structure was divided into a series of courts, with displays representing the history of art and architecture from ancient Egypt to the Renaissance, and including exhibits from the natural world and from industry.
This watercolour was engraved and reproduced in the ‘Illustrated London News’ on 19 July 1851. The watercolour remained in the possession of the artist and was sold, along with a similar watercolour showing the exhibition (GAC 13906), after the death of two of his descendants, a ‘Miss M. & Miss B. Duncan’.
Edward Duncan, a marine and landscape painter in watercolour and engraver, was the son of an artist and engraver, also named Edward. He began his career in the studio of Robert Havell senior and later set up business on his own, engraving sporting and shipping subjects, particularly by the William John Huggins. He later married Huggins’s daughter, Berthia. He became a member of the Royal Institution in 1833, serving as Vice-President and Treasurer, but resigned in 1847. Two years later he became a member of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours. Between 1843 and 1851, he worked as an illustrator for the ‘Illustrated London News’. Duncan lived in north London throughout his life. He died at his home near Haverstock Hill, aged 78.
Collection of ‘Miss M. & Miss B. Duncan’; by whose executors sold ‘on behalf of the Parish Church of Port Eynon, and the Swansea and Brecon Diocesan Trust’ through Sotheby's, London, ‘English and Continental Watercolours and Drawings 1750-1920’ sale, on 22 December 1977 (Lot 111), for £400; from which sale purchased by the Fine Art Society, London; from whom purchased by the Department of the Environment in July 1978
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