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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 6: ‘A Fine Show’: John Forbes Watson, Travelling Collections and the Indian Court


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‘A Fine Show’: John Forbes Watson, Travelling Collections and the Indian Court

One of the most attractive Courts in the Vienna Exhibition is that of India, situated just where England ends and France begins. The space allotted to our vast Indian Empire is manifestly insufficient to display all the wealth of interesting exhibits which have been sent, but the Commissioners have done their best, and a most interesting Court is the result.

... It must be remembered that India has, so to speak, no exhibitors. All artisans and manufacturers in that country are, as a rule, so poor that they cannot afford to send articles to an Exhibition and wait for their money till it is over, so that it has been necessary for the Government to purchase a collection, send it home, and trust entirely to the officers whom the Indian Office has deputed to Vienna. ...1

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