Showcase Britain

Britain at the Vienna World Exhibition 1873

by Christina Baird (Author)
©2016 Monographs XII, 188 Pages


Showcase Britain explores the diverse aspects of British participation in the Vienna World Exhibition (Weltausstellung) of 1873. The exhibition covered a vast spectrum of human endeavour and achievement. The British involvement encompassed not only the national submission but also the British individuals who visited and contributed to the displays.
The book offers a snapshot of British aspirations and commerce at a singular point in history through the lens of the exhibition. The central theme is explored through various perspectives: the ceramic collections, the Fine Art collections, British connections with China, the act of collecting, the visitor experience, and the mobility and re-use of collections, with particular reference to the display from India. The British submission is compared and contrasted throughout with that of the government of Japan, a newcomer to international shows, whose collections presented a competitor to Britain’s and a focus for British acquisition and emulation. Finally, the exhibition is viewed in the wider context of international exhibitions held in London in the following decade.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • The Opening of the Vienna Exhibition, 1 May 1873
  • Chapter 1: ‘With No Maimed Rites’: The Opening of the Vienna World Exhibition 1873
  • ‘Topics of the Week’
  • Chapter 2: ‘A Department of Special Attraction’: The British Ceramic Collections
  • Chapter 3: ‘Brighter than the Dutch’: The British Fine Art Court
  • Chapter 4: Edward C. Bowra and the Chinese Submission
  • Chapter 5: The Acquisitive Tourist: A British Collector of Japanese Art in Vienna
  • Chapter 6: ‘A Fine Show’: John Forbes Watson, Travelling Collections and the Indian Court
  • Chapter 7: The Legacy of the Vienna Exhibition
  • The Close of the Exhibition
  • Appendix 1: The Twenty-Six Categories, Vienna 1873
  • Austrian Classification
  • Additional Exhibitions
  • Temporary Exhibitions
  • Appendix 2: W. P. Blake and H. Pettit, Reports on the Vienna Universal Exhibition, 1873
  • Appendix 3: Items Loaned by Edward C. Bowra and Archdeacon Gray to the Vienna Exhibition
  • Items Loaned by Edward C. Bowra to the Ningpo Collection
  • Items Loaned by Bowra to the Canton Collection
  • Items Loaned by Bowra to the Foochow Collection
  • Items Loaned by Archdeacon Gray to the Vienna Exhibition
  • Appendix 4: The 1873 Japanese Ceramic Exhibits
  • Appendix 5: The British Companies Submitting Ceramic Collections to Group IX
  • Appendix 6: A List of Artists Contributing to the Fine Art Section
  • Appendix 7: Edward C. Bowra and the Chinese Port Catalogues
  • Appendix 8: Table of Statistics from J. V. Meigs, General Report upon the Exposition at Vienna (1873)
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 1 View of the Vienna Exhibition, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

Figure 2 Ground plan of Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

Figure 3 View of the Vienna Rotunda, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

Figure 4 Interior of the Vienna Rotunda, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

Figure 5 View of the main transept in the Industrial Hall, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

Figure 6 View of the British Court at Vienna showing Hancocks’ exhibition stand, 1873. Image courtesy of Stephen Burton, Hancocks, London.

Figure 7 Map of the Exhibition site in 1891, showing the remaining structures from 1873. Private collection.

Figure 8 Ground plan of the British Court, Industrial Hall, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873.

Figure 9 Hancocks’ display in the Industrial Hall, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Image courtesy of Stephen Burton, Hancocks, London.

Figure 10 Bar chart showing distribution of international submissions in the Industrial, Agricultural and Machine Halls at the Vienna Weltausstellung 1873.

Figure 11 Bar chart showing the quantities of British submissions to the twenty-six categories, 1873.

Figure 12 The 1873 Japanese ceramic exhibits listed by province, with details taken from the Exhibition catalogue: Catalog der kaiserlich japanischen Ausstellung, Japanischen Ausstellungs-Commission, Vienna, 1873. ← ix | x →

Figure 13 Bar chart comparing the quantities of Chinese and Japanese submissions to the twenty-six categories, 1873.

Figure 14 The Chinese Court, Industrial Hall, Vienna Weltausstellung 1873. Private collection.

| xi →


I would like to thank the generosity of the Marc Fitch Fund, who sponsored this publication, and the Scouloudi Foundation in association with the Institute of Historical Research, who sponsored the images.

Special mention should be given to the peer-reviewed journals that previously published some of this research and to their reviewers and editors, who have kindly agreed for this material to be reproduced in this publication. These include Professor Robin Simon FSA, Editor of the British Art Journal, and the editors of the Journal of the History of Collections and the Journal of Design History, both of which are published by Oxford University Press.

I would also like to express my gratitude to several individuals to whom I am indebted: Dr Laurel Plapp, Commissioning Editor at Peter Lang; my husband, marine scientist Dr Mark K. Prior, for graphic and editorial support. I am beholden to the many other individuals, too numerous to list, whose contributions are acknowledged in the footnotes and, of course, to those who donated images for illustrations, Stephen Burton of Hancocks, London and the views of Vienna, from a private collection leant anonymously.

I have spent many hours in the following institutions in Vienna: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MAK [Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst] and Wien Museum. The archives housed in these institutions were an invaluable source of information and I am grateful to the staff who patiently helped me access the source material. I am also grateful to the staff of BIG –Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft, Wien for allowing me access to the 1873 Exhibition buildings that are still standing today.

| 1 →


The Opening of the Vienna Exhibition, 1 May 18731

To-day at noon, with no maimed rites, but with the disadvantages attendant on bad weather and consequent on everything not being quite in its right place, the greatest Palace of Industry yet known to the world was declared open by Francis Joseph, the first Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, in the presence of a brilliant company. Had the grand ceremony of to-day been postponed for another fortnight it is probable that there would be found few to complain and many who would have been perhaps better satisfied. The adoption of such a course would have had many advantages, not the least of which would have been the likelihood of more settled and better weather. … But a more important consideration is this: When we bear in mind the real object of the undertaking, that it is meant to be an exhibition, and a complete one, of the products of industry and objects of art, and that not one half of these products and objects is in a finished state for the purpose of an exhibition, and cannot be so for something like a fortnight, it does seem that some such postponement would have been very advisable …

In the vestibule of the rotunda, the archdukes and the others who had previously arrived were assembled. Their Majesties were received by the principal master of the ceremonies, and the Emperor was invited by the Minister of Commerce to deign to enter the building. Baron Schwarz presented the Empress with a splendid bouquet. The Emperor and Empress and the Crown Prince then awaited the arrival of the Prince of Wales and the Crown Prince of Prussia, and precisely at twelve Baron Schwartz led the way into the rotunda itself. The entrance was at the southern door of the Exhibition. On the north side was raised a daïs for the Emperor and his royal guests. In the centre was an elegantly and tastefully arranged trophy of flowering shrubs, ferns and agaves. In getting to their destination the imperial party were compelled to go half way round this ornament, and during their progress, which was thus prolonged, loud cheers resounded throughout the rotunda … ← 1 | 2 →


XII, 188
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Showcase Britain international exhibitions Vienna World Exhibition 1873 Weltausstellung 1873
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XII, 188 pp., 14 b/w ill., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Christina Baird (Author)

Christina Baird holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, with a thesis on British trade with China during the nineteenth century. She previously held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. She now works as an independent historian and writer.


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