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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 7: The Legacy of the Vienna Exhibition


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The Legacy of the Vienna Exhibition1

The courts are blocked up now with the agents of innumerable ministries and scientific bodies collecting specimens and samples for the shelves of their museums. Reporters and students of special subjects are everywhere, note-book in hand, jostled and elbowed about in the crowd, making up for lost time and crowding into the last day a work all the objects they have set down to ‘have another look at’. Fathers of families and the ladies are buying the most remarkable souvenirs, to bring away something – no matter what – that shall remind them of the show, and exhibitors at last are realising fabulous prices for the refuse of their stalls. The crowd is everywhere so dense that it is in itself by far the most remarkable thing in the building.2

The international exhibitions had blossomed with such frequency in the latter half of the nineteenth century, both in Europe and elsewhere, that their individual legacies are complicated to assess. This chapter seeks to compare the Vienna Exhibition with those that followed in Britain, specifically focusing on the London Health Exhibition of 1884, in order to highlight the changes which occurred in the following years and the contribution that the Vienna Exhibition made to them. The Health Exhibition contained not only displays but also international restaurants with cafés, shops and theatres forming a popular part of the display just as they had in Vienna. The...

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