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Discordant and ambiguous messages in official representations of Empire: Versailles 1845, Crystal Palace 1851

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This article compares issues of imperial representation and display in mid-nineteenth century Paris and London. Analysing the selection of images and artefacts displayed in Versailles in 1845, and at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, it focuses on the monumental Vernet painting The Capture of the Smala of Abd-El-Kader at Versailles, and the Indian Court at the Great Exhibition which became a symbol of the submission of India. The French display of paintings of the conquest of Algeria and the British exhibition of artefacts and pageantry have overwhelmingly been read as a cry of imperial triumphalism. Whilst not refuting that interpretation, this article focuses on signs of ambivalence and/or dissent discernible at the time regarding the wisdom, morality, durability and ultimate value of foreign domination, and argues that the implicit discourses contained in both events are not as monolithic as first seems.
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Keywords: 1851; Algeria; Crystal Palace; Versailles; exhibitions; imperial discourses

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Westminster

Publication date: 01 November 2004

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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