Art in Focus: Relics of Old London

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Sunday, August 14, 2016

This exhibition offered a glimpse of the lost architecture of preindustrial London, as captured in a series of carbon photoprints commissioned between 1875 and 1886 by the short-lived Society for Photographing the Relics of Old London. Intended as a permanent pictorial archive of buildings under threat of demolition, the photographs document ramshackle coaching inns, disintegrating as the growing railway system eclipsed their vital role in Britain’s transportation networks; the Inns of Court, imposing Gothic sites of legal tradition; abandoned sites for early modern leisure and entertainment; gloomy medieval lanes, churches and shop fronts frequented by anonymous Londoners; soot-covered monuments and gateways; and the city’s last remaining wooden buildings, survivors of the Great Fire of 1666.

Relics of Old London explored both this antiquarian impulse to preserve remnants of the past in the face of rapid urban transformation and the role of photography in realizing new forms of public history and visual record. Focusing on the city’s built heritage rather than its shifting social fabric, the exhibition presented an idiosyncratic view of London’s history through its endangered architectural past.

Henry Dixon, no. 77, “Old houses, Aldgate” (detail), 1883, from Relics of Old London (London: Society for Photographing Relics of Old London, 1875–1886), carbon print mounted on card, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Art in Focus is an annual initiative for members of the Center’s Student Guide Program, providing curatorial experience and an introduction to all aspects of exhibition practice. Student curators select objects for exhibition, write text panels and object labels, and make decisions about installation under the mentorship of Center curators and staff. In researching and presenting this exhibition, the students were guided by Chitra Ramalingam, Research Associate and Lecturer in History; Linda Friedlaender, Senior Curator of Education; and Jaime Ursic, Assistant Curator of Education. The student curators were Rose Davis, BR ’18; Zoe Dobuler, TC ’17; Emily Feldstein, PC ’16 (Head of Art in Focus); Claire Goldsmith, ES ’18; Sergio Infante, CC ’18; Austin Johnson, PC ’16; Caroline Kanner, JE ’17; Anna Meixler, ES ’16; Nicholas Stewart, JE ’18; and Ari Zimmet, CC ’17.