Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Stony Fauna of the Crystal Palace

Ever since Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins' dinosaur sculptures were unveiled at the Crystal Palace in 1854, they've inspired artists and photographers. This was the premiere of the great fallen saurians in the public consciousness. I never get tired of reading about them, and I figured I'd share some of my favorite Crystal Palace images I've come across.

The Crystal Palace itself was a temporary structure originally erected at Hyde Park in London for the Great Exhibition of 1851. I'm really into the evolving print arts of the Victorian era, and when laying the groundwork for a book cover I was working on recently, I found the following wallpaper design created for the exhibition, shared at Flickr by National Archives UK. you can tell that it's a wallpaper design by the way the very tippy-top of the gateway pops up at the bottom of the image.
Wall to Wall Crystal Palace

Mary Linley - the Flickr account of Dulwich OnView, I believe - has also shared a series of old Crystal Palace imagery which was exhibited at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in 2004. Here's a lithograph by Joseph Nash depicting the exhibition's opening with Queen Victoria presiding.
Joseph Nash, The Opening of the Crystal Palace by Queen Victoria, June 10th 1854, Private Collection

After the exhibition was over, the palace was moved and rebuilt at Sydenham Hill in south London, and this was when the dinosaurs were created. This lithograph, credited only to "Baxter," wisely uses a happy Victorian couple to show the scale of Hawkins' creations. You can see the mythology of dinosaurs beginning to form here.Baxter extinct dinasaurs

This painting by James Harding gives a good idea of how the grounds were laid out once the palace was moved.
James Harding, Bird's Eye View, inscribed the Crystal Pa (1)

The dinosaurs thankfully still stand, having survived the obsolescence of their forms and years of neglect. they were restored in 2002, and anyone who sets foot in the park with a camera inevitably finds it pointed in their direction. I'm glad they've made it this far and haven't been destroyed and replaced by more modern versions (not that anyone would spend the money to do that). They're a valuable memento of the earliest days of dinosaur paleontology, the product of a world just being changed by industrial technology and about to be changed for good by the theory of evolution. Hawkins' Megalosaurus, photographed here by Pete Reed, seems to gloat in satisfaction for having survived the erosive powers of weather and public opinion for so long.
Dinosaurs, Crystal Palace

I'll wrap this up with my favorite photos of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, these shots by Christopher Hope-Fitch. They were taken in the early morning as the sun came up, unable to break completely through the chilly mist, evoking the primordial world that was the sculptures' inspiration.
Crystal Palace Dinosaurs 3

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs 2

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs 1

For more on Hawkins' Iguanodons, check out my recent Vintage Dinosaur Art post on the subject.


  1. It really warms my heart to know that the originals are still maintained and on display in London.

    How many generations of scientists were influenced by those statues - encouraged to study paleontology, but also encouraged to think of dinosaurs as sluggish thunder lizards such as the statues depict?

    Will the current generation now in graduate school equally come to regret the years they spent seeing Dinos through the prism of the Jurrasic Park restorations?

  2. These stone beasts really document the start of a love story between man and lizard that has lasted for over 150 years!

    Do you by chance know if any photos or illustrations exist of the illustrious dining event that took place inside one of the Igaunodons, when they were unveiled?

  3. This is the reference for the famous depiction of the dinner in the "belly of the old beast":

    "Dinner in the Iguanodon Model, at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham"
    London Illustrated News, 7 January 1854.


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