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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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The Opening of the Vienna Exhibition, 1 May 18731

To-day at noon, with no maimed rites, but with the disadvantages attendant on bad weather and consequent on everything not being quite in its right place, the greatest Palace of Industry yet known to the world was declared open by Francis Joseph, the first Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, in the presence of a brilliant company. Had the grand ceremony of to-day been postponed for another fortnight it is probable that there would be found few to complain and many who would have been perhaps better satisfied. The adoption of such a course would have had many advantages, not the least of which would have been the likelihood of more settled and better weather. … But a more important consideration is this: When we bear in mind the real object of the undertaking, that it is meant to be an exhibition, and a complete one, of the products of industry and objects of art, and that not one half of these products and objects is in a finished state for the purpose of an exhibition, and cannot be so for something like a fortnight, it does seem that some such postponement would have been very advisable …

In the vestibule of the rotunda, the archdukes and the others who had previously arrived were assembled. Their Majesties were received by the principal master of the ceremonies, and the Emperor was invited by the Minister of Commerce...

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