30 Sep 2015 – 3 Jan 2016
Exhibition in Gallery 4
The 'object lesson' was based on the premise of learning via a direct encounter with a collection of objects. This focused exhibition offers a fascinating first-hand insight into this once innovative concept that is central to understanding objects.
Developed by the influential Swiss educationalist Johann Heinrich 'Henry' Pestalozzi in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the object lesson was popularised and extended in Britain by the siblings Elizabeth and Charles Mayo in the early nineteenth century.
Beginning with direct experience and observation of the concrete object, ‘object lessons’ provided a way of encountering the world through form, material and process. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a Victorian educational specimen cabinet of object lessons, an encyclopaedia of natural and processed materials native to Britain and gathered from across the Empire.
Object Lessons reveals how the development of a national system of art and design education in nineteenth-century Britain unfolded. It reunites, for the first time in 175 years, a prize-winning student drawing of an architectural frieze from 1840 with the plaster cast from which it was drawn. Executed by R.W. Herman, these drawings were considered so exemplary that they were purchased for circulation around the regional Schools of Design, effectively becoming object lessons themselves. Alongside, photographs from the South Kensington Museum chart the progression of teaching apparatus used in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The object lesson was not limited to the classroom, with The Great Exhibition of 1851 described as 'an object-lesson upon a world-wide scale.' This, the first large scale exhibition of manufactured products that aimed to educate the population, reframed sculpture as a didactic instrument for a mass audience, and influenced the ways in which sculpture was taught, collected and displayed for the rest of the century.