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Showcase Britain

Britain at the Vienna World Exhibition 1873


Christina Baird

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.

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Chapter 2: ‘A Department of Special Attraction’: The British Ceramic Collections


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‘A Department of Special Attraction’: The British Ceramic Collections1

The Exhibition in 1851 revealed to Great Britain its manifest inferiority in artistic manufactures; and it did not take long to ascertain that the cause was the neglect of art education amongst the people, while the continental artisans were taught with the greatest care, and familiarised from their youth with the choicest productions of ancient and modern art. It was conceded that the arts schools and museums of France exercised a great influence upon the manufactures of the country. England saw that to compete with such a rival great efforts must be made, and that the people must be educated. The government took the matter in hand; it was studied and reported upon by great commissions, money was frequently appropriated, museums were founded, and the Department of Science and Art established as a branch of the government.

The favourable influence of these efforts was apparent in Paris in 1867; it was still more evident in the London Exhibition in 1871, and was abundantly shown at Vienna. Great Britain, from a position of mediocrity in 1851, has risen to a commanding position in the potter’s art, standing to-day in the front rank, not only as regards excellence of materials and manufacture, but in artistic skill.2 ← 25 | 26 →

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