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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 3: ‘Brighter than the Dutch’: The British Fine Art Court


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‘Brighter than the Dutch’: The British Fine Art Court1

The paramount feeling with which we approach this admirable gathering of British Art, is the conviction that the works reflect the spirit of the day; as they have been, for the most part, recently produced. Indeed, in looking at the nerve and life of many of the pictures and drawings, and remembering the brevity of their existence, we must class their authors among the most accomplished if improvisatori. We are here in company with many of the most ambitious spirits of our time, who signify broadly enough what they are doing to-day; but that is no key to any forecast as to what they will do to-morrow. Of a selection of these works it were perhaps the highest commendation to say that our painters of the last century would not have understood them. One, taken as a text and followed out, would unfold a curious history. We need not say that the assemblage presents every diversity of material, for among the most prominent works are those by F. Leighton, G. F. Watts, T. Faed, J. Linnell, H. S. Marks, E. Armitage, J. E. Millais, E. M. Ward, W. Dyce, E. J. Poynter, Sir E. Landseer, C. Stanfield, A. Elmore, J. C. Hook, E. W. Cooke, W. H. Hunt, and many others, equal in power, whose names even there is not space to record …2

One journalist’s observations of the British...

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