London 1908: Imre Kiralfy and the Franco-British Exhibition
After the Great Exhibition’s astounding success in 1851 and the almost complete failure of its designated successor, the International Exhibition, held 11 years later in South Kensington, no ‘official’ universal exposition was again held in the capital of the Empire. ‘Since then, London has not been prepared to take on the burden of a true world exhibition’, German museum director and art historian Julius Lessing noted in March 1900. Especially in comparison to Paris, the exposition movement had ‘languished in London’, Scottish biologist and town planner →Patrick Geddes noted at the same time, and a British architectural critic agreed when stating that ‘the fascination of exhibitions on a large scale’ had been ‘strangely slow in seizing upon London’.2 In 1852, the icon of the Great Exhibition and signum of the Victorian age, the Crystal Palace, was purchased by a private consortium for a nominal fee and relocated to Sydenham, a suburb in the south of London, approximately 15 kilometers from Trafalgar Square, where a remodeled and enlarged structure was re-erected and reopened in the summer of 1854. Beginning in the late 1880s, several exhibitions of limited size and scope were held there, culminating in the grand Festival of Empire celebrated in 1911. Although very popular at first and attracting millions of annual visitors, the reassembled building removed to Sydenham was subject to a steady demise and over time lost the original’s ‘nearly religious aura’ almost completely. A letter published in The Times on the occasion of the Festival described the Palace as ‘becoming dilapidated’ before it eventually burned down in a dramatic fire on 30 November 1936.3
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