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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 5: The Acquisitive Tourist: A British Collector of Japanese Art in Vienna


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The Acquisitive Tourist: A British Collector of Japanese Art in Vienna

The most perfect of the far Eastern displays is that of Japan. In any of the other Art Courts in the Exhibition ingenious illustrations of ugliness mingle with the things of beauty, and often the same exhibitor delights and shocks the taste. With the Japanese it is scarcely too much to say that all is original, beautiful, or quaint, for most of the exceptions which prove the rule are instances of the very latest years, when they have taken to imitating Europe.1

From contemporary accounts we can make various assumptions about the visitor’s experience of the Vienna Exhibition. Certainly participation in the exhibitions and visitor interaction was a dynamic part of international shows.2 The visitor to the Vienna Weltausstellung could walk around dwelling houses, shops and gardens or relax with an opium pipe, beer or book as the occasion presented. Music was an integral part of the Exhibition. As the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna was ideally suited to host such an international exhibition and its geographical location within developing trade and transport routes was important.3 The numbers of British visitors to the Vienna Exhibition were fewer than originally anticipated and, as has been mentioned in previous chapters, some of the reasons were ascribed to this shortfall were the costs and the outbreak of cholera in the city, which must have been a deterrent to some. ← 83...

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