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Desk folder

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca.1851 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Jennens & Bettridge (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painting under glass, papier-maché, mother-of-pearl, card and paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs Eric Hervey

  • Museum number:

    CIRC.801-1969

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 122, case 1

Object Type
This decorative folder was possibly intended for holding note- or blotting-paper. It was one of many commemorative items available for sale to visitors of the Great Exhibition. Set in the front is a view of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass; beneath is a silvered layer. This gives a sparkle to the glass of the Palace.

Materials & Making
The folder is made of japanned papier-mâché decorated with mother-of-pearl roses. The 18th-century craft of japanning ornaments made of papier-mâché became an industry after 1772 when Henry Clay of Birmingham invented a new method of manufacture. He pressed sheets of heat-resisting paper into wooden moulds. This was then removed, stoved and smoothed, providing a warp-free surface ideal for japanning. Japanning, in which pigment is suspended in a varnish medium, is a cheap method of imitating oriental lacquer.

Historical Associations
Many different papier-mâché articles were exhibited at the Crystal Palace. Jennens and Bettridge, who had bought Clay's factory in 1816, had one of the main displays. In 1825, this firm had also registered a patent for mother-of-pearl inlay. Richard Redgrave, the artist who was a member of the jury for prize medals at the Great Exhibition, also selected exhibits for acquisition by the Museum of Ornamental Art. In his 'Principles of Practical Art' in the Museum's catalogue, he criticised 'papier-maché hidden under a surface of pearl and gold' as an example of over-decoration and declared it a 'ruling vice of the Exhibition'. This was despite his own ventures into ornamental papier-mâché design. Indeed, papier-mâché tended to become fussier and by the 1860s the industry went into a gradual decline.

Physical description

Souvenir japanned papier-mâché desk folder decorated with mother-of-pearl and gilding. To left and right are moss roses and rosebuds, and to top and bottom are other flowers, probably morning glory. The centre front of the folder is inset with a general view of the exterior of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass. The scene shows visitors to the Great Exhibition and people strolling in Hyde Park. In the foreground is a tree, a carriage with horse, and separate horse with rider. Silver and copper foils back some of the painted parts to produce a light-catching effect. The inside of the folder is lined with paper printed with a diapered pattern in green. There are mother-of-pearl studs set at each of the four corners of the front and the back of the folder.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (probably, made)

Date

ca.1851 (made)

Artist/maker

Jennens & Bettridge (made)

Materials and Techniques

Painting under glass, papier-maché, mother-of-pearl, card and paper

Dimensions

Height: 15.5 cm, Width: 22.7 cm, Depth: 1 cm

Object history note

From a group of Crystal Palace memorabilia which belonged to Gerald Smedley Hervey, MBE.

Acquired towards a travelling exhibition planned by the V&A's now defunct Circulation Department in the late 1960s. The exhibition was never realised.

Historical context note

Probably for holding notepaper and/or blotting paper

Descriptive line

Souvenir japanned papier-mâché desk folder decorated with mother-of-pearl and gilding with an inset view of the Crystal Palace reverse-painted under glass in the centre. The inside is lined with paper printed with a diapered pattern in green. A mother-of-pearl stud at each of the four corners of the front and the back of the folder. English, ca.1851

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Fiona Jordan, 'Reverse painting on glass in the British Galleries' in V&A Conservation Journal, issue 39, Autumn 2001.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The eye-catching ornamentation used on this folder was created by placing silver foil behind the image of the Crystal Palace and using mother-of-pearl on the border. Papier-mâché was a popular light material often used in making souvenirs, boxes and trays. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Papier-mâché; Mother-of-pearl; Glass; Paper

Techniques

Japanning; Reverse-painting; Inlay

Subjects depicted

Rosebuds; Roses; Morning glory

Categories

Containers; Great Exhibition; Writing

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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