Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, set up a committee to organise exhibitions with the aim of improving British industrial design. This led to the first truly international exhibition 'The Great Exhibition', which was held in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, in the Summer of 1851. Opened by the Queen on 1st May, six million people flocked to see over 100,000 exhibits from around the world.
Upon entering visitors would have been struck by the size and structural perfection of the building that met their eyes. As they went through the doors they would have been overwhelmed by the height of the iron and glass transept which rose 108ft (33m) above their heads, encasing fully grown Elm trees, adding to the impression that they were in a vast green house.
This particular watercolour, by Louis Haghe, shows the central refreshment area, with the hustle and bustle of people gathered around. In it can be seen two of the Elms - originally to be cut down in initial designs for the Crystal Palace, but then included after an outcry from the British public. It gives an idea to the viewer of the pure grandness and spectacle of the exhibition, and the sense of social occasion that must have been felt by all visitors.
Haghe, amongst other artists, was commissioned by Prince Albert to produce watercolours of the Great Exhibition. These were then to be reproduced into chromo-lithographs, which was the new mechanical colour-printing process in keeping with the aims of the exhibition. Haghe was one of the pioneering artists of this process, and had previously worked with David Roberts (1796-1864) on his 'Sketches in the Holy Land', published from 1842-49. The watercolour in this lot, of the refreshment area (or 'food court' as we would term it today), was almost certainly a pre-design for his much smaller work of the same subject, currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum (CT28003).