P154 - Previously unseen images of Crystal Palace up for sale

John Ezard, Arts Correspondent

Friday August 20, 2004

The Guardian

Forty-seven remarkable, previously unseen images of the lost Crystal Palace, the Victorian masterpiece of technology and empire, have been found and will go on sale next Wednesday.

The photographs, taken more than 140 years ago, are regarded as almost unique in their sweep and detail. They reveal the vast building which a newspaper described as "a fairy palace within a wall of glass and iron" in its early London heyday.

They show that the Victorians, at the height of their confidence, felt there was nothing they could not bring home from abroad, or copy, put indoors and display to the public. Two 20 metre (65ft) high replicas of the colossi from the facade of the temple of Abu Simbel, built on the Nile by Ramesses II in 1300 BC, tower over a palm court under a glass dome which rises high above even them.

They are thought to have stood in one of 10 fine art courts in styles which ranged - in a setting Queen Victoria called "magnificent fairyland" - from Roman to Chinese. Outside a central fountain rose 50 metres (160ft) above Italianate gardens laid out on a scale rivalling Versailles.

History in focus: one of the images of Crystal Palace taken by Philip Henry Delamotte. Photo: PA/ Dominic Winter Auctions

Statistics indicate that the palace had almost 12,000 water jets. It also possessed a kind of Jurassic Park, with replica pterodactyls.

The prints were sent to the auctioneers Dominic Winter in Swindon, Wiltshire. They are expected to fetch at least £6,000.

They were taken using the relatively new albumen print process by Philip Henry Delamotte.

He was recording the palace after its transfer to Sydenham, south London, from Hyde Park, where Joseph Paxton designed it as the centrepiece of the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Albumen printing, invented in 1850, became the most widely used method for the next 40 years.

It yielded a clearer image than its predecessor, the salted paper print. It was made by coating paper with a layer of egg white and salt to create a smooth surface. The paper was then also coated with a layer of silver nitrate and placed in contact with a negative.

In 1855 a book containing 160 images by Delamotte was published. The photos which have just emerged are thought to date from the late 1850s to early 1860s.

Great British exhibitions begin with vaunting splendour and end in tawdry funfairs. This happened with the 1951 Festival of Britain, with its pleasure gardens at Battersea, and it occurred with the Crystal Palace. In 1866 its first fire broke out, mostly destroying the north transept, but sparing the Egyptian statues. These fell victim to a later blaze.

By the 1920s, the outside amenities had degenerated into a dirt-track race course, maze, jungle and dance hall. And in 1936 came the final fire.

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9/11/04 Last Updated 9/11/04