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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Eugene-Louis Lami (1800-90)

The opening of the Great Exhibition 1851 dated 1851

RCIN 452380

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The Great Exhibition of 1851 was intended both to celebrate and to spearhead progress in both arts and manufactures throughout the world. The exhibition’s opening on 1 May 1851 was the triumphant culmination of nearly two years’ work on the part of Prince Albert and a dedicated committee. Queen Victoria described the day as ‘one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives.’ The Queen and Prince commissioned a number of watercolours of the exhibition. This view by the French artist Eugène Lami was on a particularly grand scale and was intended to be framed and hung rather than mounted in one of the Queen’s albums.

Lami’s watercolour, which was commissioned by the Queen, shows the official opening ceremony at the Crystal Palace, which was designed by Sir Joseph Paxton. A dais with baldachin had been erected at the crossing of the building, and upon it can be seen the Queen (accompanied by other members of her family), receiving the report of the Commissioners, led by Prince Albert. The scale of the Crystal Palace can be seen in the tree behind the Queen, one of those already in the Park which the building had been designed to accommodate. The occasion was the subject of much advance speculation in the press and it was feared that the Queen’s life might be endangered by her presence in the midst of such a large crowd. In fact the ceremony was extremely successful and the press noted in triumph that the Queen and her family had been able to mingle safely with the crowd.