The famous 1854 print by George Baxter of Crystal Palace and Park at Sydenham is a favourite for those who explore the history of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. The post investigates the print’s composition and describes what it can tell visitors about the sculptures created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894).
George Baxter (1804-1867) was an expert London engraver and printer in the middle part of the nineteenth century. He is best known for the invention of colour printing technologies that produced bold, strong images. The brighter and bolder, the better. Some credit him with inventing colour printing. Baxter 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. George Baxter is buried in Forest Hill, south London, relatively near Sydenham and the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.
When Was This Print Made?
Baxter made a series of prints for both the 1851 Crystal Palace in Hyde Park and the 1854 Crystal Palace in Sydenham. This specific engraving is CL 193, which he called “The Crystal Palace And Gardens”. It is 163mm x 110mm printed on paper.
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 copies of the print (made from materials acquired from Baxter’s company after his death) as prints Baxter printed himself. Copies with this stamp appear to be prints produced after his death, probably by licensees (details and discussion).
Baxter’s view of Crystal Palace Park dates from 1854. Likely he visited Sydenham before the park opened. Also likely, he has access to plans and designs associated with elements of the attraction. Some features are imagined as finished.
Notice on the glasshouse, the north-west (right-side) and south-east (left, nearest to the flag) extensions. Beyond the south-east extension is the start of a water tower, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel after the failure of an early design.
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 the Baxter Print?
Consider the oil 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.
Visitor guides to the attraction celebrate Paxton’s project. He 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. Later versions of the visitor guides continued to draw attention to the accomplishments.
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 sculptures and Tidal Lake must have seemed far away from the glasshouse and attractions above the central axis of the park.
Baxter Closely Observed Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
The dinosaurs come into sharp relief in this print. Right to left, Baxter presents Mosasaurus, two Iguanodons (standing and sitting), Hylaeosaurus, and Megalosaurus. Farther to the left in the lake are Teleosaurus (upper right) and Ichthyosaurus (lower left) Above Megalosaurus, the lines of colour depict the geological illustrations, or strata. The Paxton-designed iron bridge also is in view. Other elements of the geological landscaping are easy to see. Human 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, the course running between the Mosasaurus and the sitting Iguanodon. The latter never sat in water.
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). Baxter also has completed the shape of Mosasaurus, which Waterhouse Hawkins famously left submerged and indeterminate.
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. So, this is possibly a Victorian illustration of mansplaining.
Image gallery of Crystal Palace and Gardens, by George Baxter
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. This post on George Baxter was first published 13 August 2014 for Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. It is re-published here with amendments. It was revised in August 2023 with improved images and some revisions to the text. Also improved metadata.