1857 Manchester UK – Art Treasures Exhibition of Great Britain

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Art Treasures Exhibition (Traford Botanical Park)

1857 Manchester

Name:Art Treasures Exhibition of Great Britain
Dates:5 May – 17 Oct
Days:142 days
Venue:Trafford Botanical Park – 1.2ha (3 acres)
Theme:To advance cultural appreciation in an industrial city
Visitors:1,300,000 – four times the then population of Manchester, Season tickets cost 1 or 2 guineas (£1.05 or £2.10), the first ten days and Thursdays was 2/6 (12.5p) normal admission 1s (5p) and 6d (2.5p) after 2pm on Saturdays to encourage the working class.
Legacy:£74,000 was underwritten by around 100 contributors. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gave it their patronage. Income was £110,588 9s 8d, with a profit of £304 14s 4d.

in 1835 the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville had visited iManchester and stated A sort of black smoke covers the city … From this foul drain, the greatest stream of human industry flows out to fertilise the world.

Manchester became a city in 1853, and by 1855 could boast 95 cotton mills and 1,724 warehouses. The city fathers wanted to be seen to be developing a cultural thread ito their city’s life, their theme for the show was advancing culture in an industrial city. A general committee was chaired by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, the executive committee was chaired by Thomas Fairbairn son of a local iron founder. John Deane a commissioner of the 1853 Dublin event was appointed General Commissioner.

Dr Waagen’s book

The event’s notion had been prompted both by the Great Exhibition and more specifically by an 1854 book by Dr Gustav Waagen, an art historian. It listed art treasures around Britain that were not on display to the public. A member of the Society of Arts read the book and had the idea of approaching the works’ owners to loan them for an exhibition. He gained the support of a leading Manchester industrialist who also pursued an interest in art. There was no public money available but a hundred wealthy Mancunians, perhaps inspired by the success of the Great Exhibition, contributed £74,000 to kick-start the venture

1857 Art Treasury Palace

Sir Humphrey de Trafford offered a three-acre site that had been being used by Manchester Cricket Club, moving them off to Old Trafford. The site was served by a new railway station, extending an existing railway line (Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham), which enabled special railway excursions to the event. It was also close to the Manchester Botanical Gardens. The site is today’s White City Retail Park.

The team had pedigree, the main contractors were C D Young & Co who were already working on what would become the V&A Museum, the designer was Francis Fowke who later designed the Natural History Museum.

Internal view

The venue was a temporary iron-and-glass structure, deliberately planned to be similar to the Crystal Palace 200m (656 ft) long and 61m (200 ft) wide, with a barrel vault 17m (56 ft) wide with a 32m (104 ft) wide central gallery running the length of the building. There was a 32m (104 ft) transept. It used 660 tons of cast iron, 610 tons of wrought iron, 65,000 sq ft (6,000 sq m) of glass and over 1,500,000 bricks. The building cost £7,000, and when demolished, in 1858, it realised £2,836.

1857 exhibits

This claimed to be the largest art exhibition ever held in the UK, with 16,000 works on display in ten categories – Old Masters (1,000 works), Modern Masters (5,000 works), British Portraits and Miniatures, Water-colours, Ancient Sketches/Drawings, Engravins, Illustrations or Photography, works of Oriental Art, objects of Oriental Arts, and Sculpture (700 pieces). The display of paintings was arranged in chronological order and divided into geographical categories with Italian art on one wall and other nations opposite. This enabled the viewer to learn about the development of art practice over time and to compare regional approaches.

Artwork on show 1857

Works included old European masters – Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian… and modern British artists – Constable, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Turner… All the items were loaned from private British collections, including those of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The selection and display of the artworks for this event set the scene for public art collections then being established in the UK – the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Visitors in the venue

The 142-day event is said to have attracted 1,300,000 visitors, which was four-times the then city population. It closed on 7 Oct to mark the humiliation of the Indian Mutiny

Friedrich Engels, a Manchester factory manager at the time, wrote to Karl Marx, and said of the exhibition, Everyone up here is an art lover just now and the talk is all of the pictures at the exhibition.

Music was a highlight at the Art Treasures Palace with Charles Hallé invited to assemble and lead an orchestra to perform a daily concert and organ recital. His orchestra was a huge success with the Manchester Guardian declaring the farewell concert to be the best instrumental concert ever given in Manchester. Following the closure of the exhibition, Hallé convinced his orchestra members to stay on in Manchester and within a few months he launched a series of concerts in his own name and the world famous Hallé Orchestra was born.

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Back to 1857, Lausanne CH – Lausanne Exhibition
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