This post on George Baxter was first published 13 August 2014 for Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. It is re-published here with amendments.
Baxter Print Re-examined
The famous ‘Baxter’ print of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs is a favourite for those who admire the site. The post investigates the print’s origin and describes what it can tell visitors about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
Who made it?
George Baxter (1804-1867) was a London printer who experimented with colour printing processes. The brighter and bolder, the better. Some credit him with inventing colour printing. He also was a talented engraver. The wide range of his work can be seen in GeorgeBaxter.com, in the Special Collections at Victoria University Library, and in H. George Clark’s 1919 biography in Baxter Colour Prints. He is buried in Forest Hill, near Sydenham and the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. Baxter likely created this print himself.
When was it made?
Baxter made a series of prints for both the 1851 Crystal Palace in Hyde Park and the 1854 Crystal Palace in Sydenham. This particular plate is CL 193, which he called “The Crystal Palace And Gardens”.
Isn’t the date October 7, 1854? No. Sometimes this print appears with a rubber stamped mark in the lower righthand corner. Experts believe this stamp was applied in the 1920s in an intentional effort to pass off later prints as prints Baxter printed himself rather than as prints produced after his death by licensees (details and discussion).
Baxter’s view of Crystal Palace Park dates from early in 1854. Perhaps he visited before the park opened. Notice the water towers. These were the first (original) design for the water system supplying pressurised water to the fountains. They did not work and had to be replaced by a new design, provided by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. However, if early 1854 is the date when Baxter viewed the park, then it’s unclear how Baxter learned the shape of some of the dinosaurs, as these were completed only very near the formal opening of the park in June 1854.
After Baxter’s death in 1867, his prints were published as “Baxter Prints” by Vincent Brooks, Day & Son and as their own by Le Blond & Co., his licences. CL 193 was sold later as Le Blond Baxter 163 oil print “Crystal Palace and Gardens,” circa 1868 (size 11 x 16.5cm). This used the original Baxter plates but the colouring is different; it is much lighter (details).
What’s so special about this print?
New technology on display
Consider the printing process. These are intensely bold colours. Historians of Victorian decoration stress the growing fashion for sharp and brilliant – almost garish – colours for prints. That’s a story in itself.
Consider the scene as a whole
In this view, far in the distance is the glasshouse facing southeast. This dominates the skyline. Also, the Baxter print nicely shows the two other grand features of Crystal Palace Park. Normally, viewers notice the glasshouse and the dinosaurs, but they look past the landscaped gardens and the fountains. In this section, for instance, notice the circular Rosary on the left, with the path leading into it.
The landscaping is key: glasshouse at the top of the hill, landscaped gardens and fountains down hill, and lake at the base. This is Joseph Paxton‘s design in its grandest form. It places the glasshouse at the apex — at the peak of the hill facing south, but clearly visible across the London metropolis. That makes the glasshouse a permanent advertisement for the park as an attraction.
Paxton made clever use of the slope in this landscape. He used of gravity to feed the flow of water and planned over 22,000 spouts for his fountains. Most were small. But the great fountain basins (today, there are the spaces occupied by the sports stadium and the aquatic centre) raised water over 250 feet into the sky.
Crystal Palace Park comprised over 200 acres of land. That’s a lot of space to fill with amusements. In a way, this was too large a space to be viable. The Crystal Palace Company struggled to fill it all with revenue-generating activities. The Baxter print shows empty space in the downhill, southern half of the park. The dinosaurs and tidal lake must have seemed far away from the glasshouse and attractions above the central axis of the park.
The dinosaurs come into sharp relief in this print. Right to left, Baxter presents Mosasaurus, two Iguanodons, Hylaeosaurus, and Megalosaurus. Further in the distance, the lines of colour above Megalosaurusdepict the geological illustrations. Also, the Paxton-designed iron bridge is in view. Other elements of the geological landscaping are easy to see, too. And visitors are shown walking amongst the displays, on what was called “Secondary Island”. There were more statues on display in summer 1854 than are depicted here, and Baxter has repositioned some so as to appear in profile for his print. He also has imagined one of the water courses, running between the Mosasaurus and the sitting Iguanodon.
Baxter’s detailing is excellent. To the left of Megalosaurus, in the pool of water, two aquatic animals are shown: an Ichthyosaurus (left) and a Teleosaurus(right).
In the finest detail, a lecture seems to be underway. Historians of science will spot that a man is lecturing to two women. This gender difference was common in Victorian natural history. Women comprised the significant majority of amateur naturalists in this period. Quite often, the real expertise was in their knowledge of materials, and it’s simply wrong to suppose that because women were excluded from most professional associations it was because they lacked expertise or enthusiasm in the subject.
A copy of the Baxter print is held by Wellcome Library, London, item V0013783 (link). It is 10.9 x 16cm.
Written by Professor Joe Cain.