From the Great Exhibition to London Design Festival

20 September 2019

Cultural Studies | Empire and Globalism | History

This blog includes temporary free access to Exhibition 1851: prints. Click here or on the images below to view this document for free until 20th October 2019.

This week sees the opening of London Design Festival, an annual event ‘held to celebrate and promote London as the design capital of the world and as the gateway to the international creative community.’ Taking place over 9 days in September, the capital will host over 400 events and exhibitions showcasing all aspects of design from architecture, to fashion, interior and product design.

Since 2009, the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington has been the central hub of the festival. This year, the museum will host several specially commissioned projects by leading international designers including Kengo Kuma, Matthew McCormick, Rony Plesl, and Jed Novatt, amongst others. A series of talks, debates, daily tours and workshops are also scheduled to take place at the museum.

Looking back through the archives, it’s possible to trace the V&A’s links with design festivals as far back as its inception in 1851. In fact, the museum was founded following the success of the world’s first international display of design and manufacturing – the Great Exhibition. Held in a temporary ‘Crystal Palace’ in Hyde Park, the exhibition showcased the best of British industry, from steam engines to exotic goods imported from the colonies. The exhibition was a huge success, attracting over 6 million visitors, and profits were put towards the development of a cultural district of museums devoted to arts and science education; the first of these to open was the V&A.

Documents from AMD’s World’s Fairs resource provide an insight into the exhibition that resulted in the museum’s founding, such as this folio of prints held by the Prints and Drawing Department at the V&A:

Image © The Victoria and Albert Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the images in the blog.
Image © The Victoria and Albert Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the images in the blog.
Image © The Victoria and Albert Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the images in the blog.

Given the crucial role of the Great Exhibition in the V&A’s history, it seems very appropriate that the museum should be a key venue for today’s London Design Festival. Since it’s opening, the museum has remained dedicated to arts education and the display and promotion of design. 

The plethora of sources in World’s Fairs provide an insight into how the Great Exhibition influenced the wider exposition movement, which remains active to this day. Including a wealth of material from the V&A archives amongst others, AMD’s World’s Fairs is a key digital resource for those wanting to delve deeper into the history of design fairs and exhibitions.

For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Full access is restricted to authenticated academic institutions which have purchased a licence.

 

About the Author

Sophie Foan

Sophie Foan

I joined the editorial team at Adam Matthew in August 2018. My interests include contemporary art and design history. I'm currently working with archives and the academic community to develop new projects.

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