Building Name

Great Hall: Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.

Old Trafford, Manchester
GMCA, England
New Build

THE ARTS TREASURES EXHIBITION – The decorations of the great central hall of the Exhibition has been entrusted to Mr J Crace of Wigmore Street, London, the principal colours being maroon and gold. The walls will be of a rich bright maroon, and the semi-circular roof, from the springing of the arch to the glazing in panels of an aerial grey, with a maroon coloured marginal line ground each. The purlins are to have a maroon line broken at intervals with a rosette, and the external lines of the girders, with the rivet heads gilt. The face of the girders will be relieved with gold and light bronze ornaments. The columns will be bronze and gold, as also are the balustrades extending round the galleries. The general effect is expected to be very rich and effective. The walls of the picture galleries are covered with a light green paper, with an arabesque pattern in a deeper shade of the same colour. The roofs of these galleries will in every respect correspond as to decoration with that of the central hall. The decoration of these galleries has been given to Messrs Wilson, Little and Henshaw. [Manchester Courier 14 March 1857 page 7]

THE GREAT HALL - The decoration of the great hall is finished; and rapidly and admirably have Mr Crace and his men done their work. The effect is in the highest degree satisfying to the eye; and every detail will bear examination. It is a hall admirably fitted for the most effective display of all that can come within the term “art-treasures.” It is rich in colours and in gilding; but its richness is of a kind and a degree calculated to enhance the charms of the gems of art for which it is to be the casket – not in any way to diminish the enchantment of those charms or to draw attention from them. The decorations will, we believe, be found to possess those highest of merits – perfect propriety and suitableness for its object.

We subjoin some general details as to Mr Crace’s work, although a few of them have already appeared in our columns. The semi-circular roof is divided into panel-like compartments by the deep iron principals, and by the longitudinal ribs of timber. These compartments are coloured a very pleasant aerial grey, with a faint border line of crimson. The principals are in bronze, with an ornamental edging of a light cream or vellum tint; and the faces are decorated alternately with the Vitruvian scroll and the Greek key in white and crimson. Upon their under edges, the principals bear a neat rose ornament in gold, and all the rivets are gilt-headed. The coupled columns throughout the building are painted in bronze colour, relieved with gold; and so are the open balustrades of the galleries, and the similar work on the sides of the staircase, which are further relieved by a gold star in the centre of each compartment. This bronze and gold ornamentation of the ironwork adds very much to the richness of the interior; and the monograms “A T E” in the centre of the floral-work brackets, being in bright gold, stand out effectively, but without obtrusiveness. The side walls of the great hall are of a rich maroon, with a neat sub-base, and a very elegant cornice. The latter is in gold and colours, and it presents a number of tablets, in blue, upon which are to be placed the names of the principal portrait painters, British and foreign; and this for a reason that will be given in its place.

At the western or upper end, within the semi-circle of the roof of the central aisle, is the following line in ornamental letters upon a florally decorated ground – “To wake the soul by tender strokes of art.” Immediately underneath will be the organ and orchestra; and these will break the passage along the galleries, which it was at first thought might be kept unbroken. At the eastern or entrance end, we find the well-known and very appropriate line – “A thing of beauty is a joy forever!”

The gallery here is now completed; and although not so extensive as those at the west end, it will accommodate a large number of persons, and afford a good point for watching the busy crowds that will occupy the floor, as well as the best point for judging of the coup d’oeil of the whole interior.

The roofs of the six picture galleries (Three upon each side of the great hall) are treated similarly to that of the hall; but the roof principals being less imposing here, there has not been room for so much decoration, and these are finished in bronze and gilt. The side walls of the galleries are covered with the tea-green ground paper, with a neat diaper pattern, which being tested on the occasion of the promenade was highly approved of, and has since been clearly shown to be admirably adapted for the effective display of pictures. The decoration of the galleries is very nearly completed; indeed nothing remains to be done but portions of the heads of the arched divisions between the several galleries. These heads are divided into compartments, two of which are to be devoted to the names of the principal masters whose work will be found in the respective galleries; and as in the finished specimens there are five or six names in each compartment, there will altogether be the names of 120 or 130 great or celebrated painters kept constantly and most plainly before the eyes of the visitors. The other compartments are panelled or decorated with the winged caduceus. We shall hereafter be enabled to state with precision the period over which the works in each gallery extend. We may repeat that the ancient masters will be arranged in the south galleries (those to the left on entering, or towards the railway); while modern works will be hung in the north galleries. ….  The decoration of the picture galleries has been carried out most satisfactorily by Messrs Wilson Little and Henshaw, of this city. (see clarification) The glass in the roofs of the galleries has been (or will be) covered with canvas, and the light being this softened, has been greatly improved. [Manchester Guardian 9 April 1857 page 3]

 * Paper hangings supplied by Wilson, Little and Henshaw of Manchester as part of Crace’s design [Manchester Guardian 11 April 1857 page 5]

Reference    Manchester Guardian 9 April 1857 page 3
Reference    Manchester Courier 14 March 1857 page 7