Thanks to an overnight visit to New Haven this past weekend, I was able to make two visits to the Yale Center for British Art. During the first, I made my way to the fourth floor gallery, one of my favorite places, to view the new display of the collections, “Britain in the World.” You can read about it here.
On the second visit, I spent a long time in a small, fascinating exhibit, Art in Focus: Relics of Old London, which runs until 14 August 2016.
On display were beautiful carbon photoprints of London buildings in the later Victorian era. These were part of a project begun in 1875 when “ a group of friends united to memorialize”* the Oxford Arms coaching inn, which was facing demolition. “Over the following decade, the Society for Photographing Relics of Old London continued to issue photographs of buildings that were abandoned, altered, or soon to be destroyed, to honor bygone and overlooked sites and to rouse public sentiment against such development projects.”
|Oxford Arms, the galleries|
Since I like to write road books, I was especially interested in the photos of old coaching inns. But all of the images give one a sense of time travel.
The exhibition photographs come from the Paul Mellon Collection, and are part of a complete set of 120 photographs the museum owns. The photos were originally issued in “portfolios of green morocco leather, with gilt lettering.” This, and the decision to produce carbon prints, which are highly stable and thus permanent, show that the images were meant to be a lasting record. According to the exhibition pamphlet, “the accompanying letterpress included detailed scholarly excavations of the layers of history in each site photographed.”
You can see the images and the descriptions at the Royal Academy Collections.
I also recommend a visit to one of the 2NHG’s favorite London blogs, Spitalfields Life, where you can see some Then & Now: Relics of London photos to compare with photos of the buildings that escaped destruction.
*All quotations from exhibition catalog: Art in Focus: Relics of Old London, Yale Center for British Art.
Image: The Upper Gallery, The Oxford Arms, Warwick Lane, 1875, ca.1875, scanned from Exhibition catalog (Note: the copyrighted images at, e.g., the Royal Academy of Arts, are much sharper. Oxford Arms, the galleries, looking from Warwick Lane, courtesy Wikipedia.
|Oxford Arms in Better Days|
Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption (except for the one at left) will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.