This beautiful picture shows Worcester at an important time in its history. It had recovered from the destruction of the Civil War battles raged across the city and is starting to become a powerful industrial centre. On the left you can see the earliest Worcester porcelain works and its first bottle kiln and on the right Severn trows are hauling finished goods to Bristol, London and on to the rest of the world.
Paul Sandby was a map-maker and landscape painter who was described by his fellow artist Gainsborough as the best for ‘real views from nature in this country’. He made his name first as a military surveyor and then continued to travel around Britain, documenting the changing landscape in watercolour paintings. He was one of the 34 founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768.
Sanby etched a large number of his paintings and published them as prints. The 1760 original watercolour is in the collection of the Museum of Royal Worcester, and the print was published on 1 November 1778. What makes this particular print special is that its documentation tells us it was the actual copy exhibited at the 1882 Worcestershire exhibition.
Victorian achievement had invigorated the nation with pride and the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Crystal Palace is considered symbolic of this national confidence. It was hugely successful in demonstrating Britain’s innovations and achievements to the world, and delighting and inspiring its six million visitors.
When the delicate matter of a £200 deficit in the budget of Worcester’s public library arose, the response of Worcestershire’s great and good was ambitious; a Great Exhibition for Worcestershire. A committee was formed of peers, MPs, artists, antiquaries and manufacturers with the unenviable task of creating this awe inspiring exhibition in six months. It opened in July 1882 at Shrub Hill Engine Works amidst much pomp and ceremony.
The county’s finest products were represented; Stourbridge glass, Kidderminster carpets, Worcester porcelain and gloves, and iron from Dudley. The fine arts section boasted old masters, contemporary painters, decorative arts and needlework with many of the exhibits coming from the country homes of the county elite. This print was lent to the exhibition by its then owner, WN Marcy of Bewdley.
The exhibition was a huge success. It enhanced Worcestershire’s reputation, delighted its visitors and encouraged and inspired the common man. Several of the exhibits were donated to the City Museum to create the first art collection and they remain in this public collection to the present day.
Museums Worcestershire is extremely grateful to Rebecca Way and to the Friends of Museums Worcestershire for their generous addition to the Worcester City museum collection.