I have become a little obsessed with this image. Mind you, I have been obsessed long time with museums and the history of museum-like spaces and collections. This sort of historic museological catnip makes me extremely happy.
Shown is Interior of the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly by William Benjamin Sarsfield, 1815. What a crammed room and what a wonderful room. The giraffe holds pride of place on his central podium, flanked by a couple of unhappy looking sharks, with a perkier kangaroo perched in the fireplace. There seem to be oodles of cases of things, undoubtedly wonders of the natural world-type things, keeping the many punters happy.
And the punters do look happy. Families, militia, ladies resplendent in their later Georgian frocks and shawls and bonnets, oddly old-looking children and a chap, presumably a scholar or in the church, bottom left and sober in black with a matching tassled hat. There is even an example of that ubiquitous museum visitor – the one lecturing his friends, loudly – in front of the cabinet on the left. And what pray tell is the chap bottom right in green examining with his large eye glass? A mermaid mayhap?
The Egyptian Hall opened in 1812, in a grand Egyptian looking building that bought a little bit of exotic to the neighbourhood of Piccadilly. So when this bustling image was etched and tinted the whole Hall was still fresh and dusted. Originally the Hall had been built to house one William Bullock’s ethnographic and natural history collection. But by 1825 all that tat had been auctioned off. The Hall became a venue for art exhibitions, panoramas, séances and spectaculars. The latter including, of course, people floating out over the hall.
‘The whole forming the most Clever and Amusing Entertainment ever presented to the public.’
and not an electronic interactive display, talking headphone guide or gift shop to be seen, how did they manage?
Well, by dint of having a bonkers collection. Always a help, that.
It reminds me a little of the upstairs gallery at the Horniman Museum. Frozen in time.
Yes, very true.