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The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 was a celebration of the variety and extent of the British Empire at its peak. It contained displays from every part of the Empire, as well as examples of all the wonders of the industrial age. Examples of decorative arts from the past were also included.
This exhibition stimulated massive borrowing of design styles in the later Victorian era, a period known for its eclecticism- that is, the tendency to mingle styles from different ages and cultures. Collecting curiosities of all kinds, especially things from far away places, was a passion in this period. Victorian taste was characterized by a love of embellishment and elaborate decoration. The new design styles that emerged in the late 19th century were in fact a reaction against the eclecticism and fussy decorative style of the Victorian Era.
The Victorian age also saw the development of a multitude of new technologies. The Victorians held an optimistic faith in the power of new technologies and invention; yet this optimism was contrasted with the social upheaval caused by the industrial revolution. Poverty before the 19th c. was mainly rural, agrarian, and the poor lived in mutually supporting, traditional communities. In the new industrial age, however, the traditional patterns of life were destroyed, to be replaced by urban slums and the breakdown of social order. These links will take you to a first hand account of working and living conditions among textile workers. The new technologies, and concern about the social changes of the age, would also become factors in the development of new design styles.