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Week 3 - High Victorian Style

Video: Sotheby's and Anna Clark present The English Style 1700-1880 (approx 50 mins). Includes both revision over styles covered in last week's lecture and also some excellent examples of Victorian interiors, furniture, furnishings and tableware.

19th-c Britain: major colonial power with extensive international markets. With the Industrial Revolution had come mass production - with the development of more efficient transport had created mass markets. Machines replaced traditional hand skills. New social structures were developing - a Middle Class. There was rapid change and technological innovation.

Characteristics of High Victorian Style (early - mid reign of Queen Victoria):

  • Eclectic, borrowing from a wide range of historical and 'exotic' sources in a confusing variety of styles
  • Technical virtuosity, showing off cleverness of production techniques
  • Decoration dominates and disguises the structure and function of objects
  • Ostentatious design, ornamental and multi-medium
Sarah Ovenall's Victoria Regina Tarot

Recommended soundtrack to get in that pompous Victorian mood:

"Rule Britannia", "Land of Hope & Glory" (or any other Elgar), "God Save the Queen".

The Great Exhibition (1851)

Perhaps the defining event of the High Victorian Era was the Great Exhibition of 1851, London, was the showcase for Britain's industrial achievements. The exhibition hall of glass and steel (the 'Crystal Palace') was designed by Joseph Paxton. Regarded as a great success by some, others thought the products on display were excessively complex and ornamental, cold and industrial, and out of touch with people's needs. The exhibition was the catalyst for design reform, giving rise to the Arts and Crafts Movement led by William Morris. We will be covering later Victorian styles such as Japonisme and the Arts and Crafts Movement in more detail over the next two weeks.


Read more about the Crystal Palace

(Note: this is a pdf, might take time to download)

Some examples of High Victorian Designers:

E T Bellhouse (1816 -1881)

Designed prefabricated iron buildings, including inexpensive ready-made buildings that emigrants to the new colonies could take with them for erection on arrival.


A W N Pugin (1812-1852)

AWN Pugin was the leading architect of the Victorian Gothic Revival. As a passionate convert to Roman Catholicism in his early 20's, he wanted to inspire religious awe by reproducing genuine medieval craftsmanship in grand cathedrals. Apart from his buildings, Pugin also made furniture and tableware in a medieval style. He published influential works such as "The True Principles of Christian Architecture".

Definition of Gothic Revival: A style influenced by medieval and Gothic influences popular in the mid-1800s, characterized by lines flowing up to a pointed arch and other Gothic architectural features.
Ref: www.qualityfurnituremarket.com/glossary.html

This stream of Victoriana evolved into the Arts & Crafts Movement and Aestheticism, which we'll be covering over the next weeks.


The nostalgia for glorious times past also showed in jewellery in the Celtic Revival style. Celtic crosses also became popular in this period. These had not been used since Medieval times.

The Celtic Revival was particularly popular in Ireland and Scotland for political reasons (note: the Welsh, Scots and Irish are generally of Celtic origin, whereas the English are not). It was especially significant in literature. These were not just decorative items, but emblems of patriotism and a national identity - the context in this case was very important.


Celtic Cross photo by kat black

Owen Jones (1809-1874)

As well as collecting the exotic from their colonial expansion, the Victorians also loved to document it. Owen Jones was a Welsh architect who travelled all over the world on a Grand Tour, collecting and copying architectural ornamentation. His lush, beautifully illustrated and yet very scientific volumes are still being published today as sourcebooks for architects, interior designers and artists.


Some other recommended Victoriana resources:

Google.com image search for High Victorian
Google Directory - Art Movements - Victorian Genres
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London: www.vam.ac.uk
Victoria Web: www.victorianweb.org/art/design/designov.html
The Victorian Society, UK: www.victorian-society.org.uk

Contextual factors to consider:

  • Colonialism and exploration brought many exotic new influences
  • Colonialism also created demand for pre-fabricated and portable items
  • Efficient travel reduced the localisation of supply
  • Increased literacy meant more people could read... advertisements!
  • Nouveau-riche - a new class of consumers of expensive items
  • More efficient machines... bigger factories, faster production
  • The cult of Science - systems, reason, cataloguing
  • Development of Town Planning - such as Baron Haussmann, who remodelled Paris
  • Great Exhibition of 1851 (the Crystal Palace)
  • The dark side of the big boom - Child Labour
  • Transportation available to the masses! Railways and bicycles

Some key technical innovations:

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Romanticism and Classicism continue
  • Pluralism, including: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1890's): Millais, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, William Morris; Symbolism (1890's): Boecklin, Redon
  • Impressionism (1870-80's): Monet, Degas, Renoir - influenced by Ukiyo-e
  • Post Impressionism (1890's): Van Gogh, Gaugin.

Next Week - Aestheticism and Japonisme

retrokat.com quite nice sites

all graphics, text and design: copyright retrokat.com 2001-4
References: Partly based on lecture notes prepared by P. Garn-Jones. Additional material by Kat Black.
Note: If you personally hold copyright to any images or other content herein and wish it to be removed or credited,
please email me on kat@retrokat.com and I'm more than happy to do so.