- Museum number
Interior of the National Gallery of Practical Science, Adelaide Street; group of figures standing around a long trough with circular ends, filled with water, on which several model boats are floating, various machines in the foreground, people looking at paintings on the gallery level above. 1832
- Production date
Height: 329 millimetres
Width: 226 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Catalogue entry from J.Kierkuc-Bielinski, 'George Scharf', exh. Soane Museum, 2009 (no. 38):
The National Gallery of Practical Science was housed on the north side of the Lowther Arcade, a shopping passage that formed part of the neo-classical triangular block, with its distinctive ‘pepper-pot’ corner towers, that had been built by John Nash on the north side of the western end of the Strand in1831. Popularly known as the Adelaide Gallery, it was opened in 1832, the year that Scharf drew this view of its long main hall. It is likely, given the relatively sparse number of exhibits that are yet displayed, that this view was made shortly after the opening. The main hall was used for the display of various scientific and mechanical models. The centre of the hall is dominated by the long water tank (100 ft), with two circular reservoirs at each end. This was used to display model, clockwork paddle boats that would sail up and down the length of the water. A lighthouse is clearly visible in the centre of the nearest reservoir, whilst a fountain plays in the one shown at the far end of the tank. These boats were intended to be scale models of actual vessels whose design was meant to improve the stability of paddle steamers. However, as one observer commented in the press: ‘We Apprehend, however, that the comparison is hardly fair between little boats slowly revolving in a tub of still water, and a great vessel running at a rate of twelve miles an hour on a rapid river’. Towards the right of the drawing, in the foreground, Scharf has included one of the most popular and noisy of the exhibits. This was the steam powered machine gun invented in 1825 by the American Jacob Perkins. The gun could fire bullets along the length of the Adelaide Gallery at such a velocity, that when they hit the iron target, shown in the background towards the right, they would be ‘…flattened to the thickness of a shilling piece’. One visitor recalled the experience of seeing the gun fire, which would be let off every hour with a concussive explosion: ‘The man who showed it gave a kind of lecture upon it; assured the audience that the Duke of Wellington came to see it the day before yesterday, and told the speaker that if he could have had the benefit of the steam-gun at the Battle of Waterloo, that engagement would have been over “in about half an hour, instead of lasting all day”. He also said that all the regiments in our present army would be furnished with steam-guns, and it was expected in consequence that there would be no more fighting’. In spite of the Duke of Wellingtons supposed ‘endorsement’ of the gun this last sentiment proved ill-founded. Above the main hall can be seen the viewing gallery, which also served for the display of paintings. The collections of the National Gallery of Practical Science were frequently visited by Scharf and his journals record his many excursions there. On one occasion he records having painted in seven colours a circular plate that was used for the ‘steel cutting engine’ that formed part of the displays at the Adelaide Street Gallery. His fascination with new technology is also evidenced in his journals and in several other drawings, apart from this one (see 1862,0614.639).
See 'London: World City 1800-1840', ed. C. Fox, The Museum of London, 1992; Peter Jackson MSS Index.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009 Mar-Jun, London, Sir John Soane Museum, George Scharf
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number