Past Events

The Crystal Palace at Sydenham


  • 26 January 2004
  • 9:45 – 7:30 pm
  • Dulwich Picture Gallery
Large glass building with trees and people

Exterior of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, 1854

The Great Exhibition of 1851 and Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in Hyde Park are well known and much discussed, but little attention has been given to the contents of the Crystal Palace in its incarnation at Sydenham. Pugin's Medieval Court at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, with its 'blaze of gold and colour', helped revive Gothic primary colours and the stylisation of natural forms. Encouraged by its success, but witha more academic, didactic intention, Owen Jones and Matthew Digby intended in the Courts at Sydenham to refine the taste and knowledge of the people and to overome their ignorance of colour and ornament, by building, plastering and colouring ambitious reproductions of architectural styles, like film sets that one could walk through. The interior of the Palace, and even the Park at Sydenham, was intended as an 'illustrated encyclopaedia' to teach the history of civilisation and of natural history.

Papers in this conference will discuss the attempts of the architects to make the people aware of historic styles and to teach them the grammar of ornament. There will be some discussion of the influence this had on artistic life in the second half of the century and the mid-century connotations of the architectural styles in the minds of the Victorian intelligensia.