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The Great Exhibition

This day is one of the greatest & most glorious days of our lives, with which, to my pride & joy the name of my dearly beloved Albert is for ever associated!

Queen Victoria, Journal entry for 1 May 1851

Queen Victoria’s effusive journal entry for 1 May 1851 did not exaggerate the significance of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition. The aim of this exceptionally ambitious project was to showcase British industry alongside that of the rest of the world, with contributions from countries including Russia, America, Spain and Turkey. It was a huge success, encompassing over 100,000 exhibits and attracting more than six million people during its five-month run. Victoria herself visited more than 30 times.

Both Victoria and Albert were keen to have this temporary spectacle captured in a permanent visual record. They instigated a publication project, commissioning two favourite artists – Joseph Nash and Louis Haghe – to paint 49 watercolours to be reproduced in chromolithography (then still a relatively new and developing technology in colour printing, and thus in keeping with the ethos of the exhibition). These chromolithographs were published in two volumes in 1854, with accompanying letterpress descriptions.