The Victorians frequently commissioned large commemorative oil paintings of significant events, and many pictures of the Great Exhibition were made. This one was originally executed for commercial purposes, so that prints reproducing it could be made and sold. Sometimes an artist could make more money from the reproduction rights than from the sale of the original painting.
Henry Courtenay Selous (1803-1890) was a London painter of genre, landscape and historical and literary subjects. He was the son of the painter George Selous and was a pupil of the painter John Martin. In 1843 he won a œ200 prize at the Westminster Hall Cartoon Competition. He produced illustrations for the Art Union and illustrated many books.
The International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures, the Great Exhibition, was initiated by Prince Albert and housed in a vast glass structure, the Crystal Palace, erected in Hyde Park. The painting shows the Archbishop of Canterbury blessing the Exhibition. Commissioners, ministers and dignitaries surround the Royal Family. More than 25,000 people attended the opening day. The artist included Sir Henry Cole, later the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the group on the left.