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Pair of Percussion Target Pistols Made for Display at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, 1851

Pair of Percussion Target Pistols Made for Display at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, 1851

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Made by the Parisian gunsmith Alfred Gauvain (1801–1889) for display at the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in London in 1851, these pistols are masterpieces of iron chiseling in the Renaissance Revival style that was popular in mid-nineteenth-century design. Designed by the sculptor and ornemanist Michel Liénard (1810–1870), they were praised at the time as works of modern art that rivaled in beauty of execution many older firearms preserved in national museums. The inspiration for the lizards, snakes, and frogs amid vine branches was perhaps provided by Renaissance goldsmith's works (silver by Wenzel Jamnitzer of Nuremberg) and ceramics (French Palissy ware).
Signed by Alfred Gauvain (French, Paris 1801–1889 Paris)

The Exposition des produits de l'industrie française (Exhibition of Products of French Industry) organized in Paris, France, from 1798 to 1849 impressed the British public so much so that under increasing public pressure the British government reluctantly set up a Royal Commission to investigate the idea of London Exhibition. National pride dictated that the exhibition must bigger and better than anything French could organize. A competition to design an exhibition building was won by the firm of Fox and Henderson, with plans based upon a design by Joseph Paxton and adapted from a glass and iron conservatory produced for the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth House. The design of the impressive glass and iron conservatory or Crystal Palace was amended to accommodate the Hyde Park's large elm trees. The building was 1,850 feet (564 m) long, and 108 feet (33 m) high. Shortly after the exhibition, the whole structure was removed from Hyde Park site and re-erected at Sydenham, then a sleepy hamlet in the Kent countryside, now a multi-ethnic part of South East London. The building was destroyed by fire on the 30th November 1936. The Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria on 1st May 1851. The opening of the Great Expedition happened to coincide with the great innovation of the Industrial Revolution. The Exhibition of 1851 ran from May to October and was visited by six million people. The event became one of the defining points of the nineteenth century. The exhibits included every marvel of the Victorian age, including pottery, porcelain, ironwork, furniture, perfumes, pianos, firearms, fabrics, steam hammers, hydraulic presses and even the odd house or two. Although the original aim of the world fair had been as a celebration of art in industry for the benefit of All Nations, it turned into a showcase of British manufacturing: more than half the 100,000 objects on display were from Britain and the British Empire.





The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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