Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were active patrons of photography. Their patronage of the Great Exhibition in 1851 gave millions of visitors their first opportunity to see a photograph, some of which had been lent by the royal couple themselves. The exposition was a great success. Over the five months it was open to the public, it attracted more than six million visitors – approximately one third of the population of Britain at the time. It made a profit of some £186,000 – equivalent to tens of millions today.
The Crystal Palace was designed by Joseph Paxton – a young man without any architectural training – and built in record time. It established an architectural standard for later international exhibitions, such as that held in Dublin two years later. As befits a photo of the largest glass building in the world, this daguerreotype by John Jabez Edwin Mayall was at the time one of the largest daguerreotypes ever made. Note the shadowy figure in the foreground who moved during the exposure. The image shows a full-size elm tree in front of a Refreshment room run by Schweppes, and a fountain made of crystal glass, with water perfumed with cologne.
Image courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum