Can we begin to imagine the excitement surrounding a visit to the World's Fairs of the day?
It's a difficult leap to make-but imagine-none of the technology-where every day we are tossed to the winds of the net.
the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations
the Crystal Palace showed off London's architectural genius as well being host to the first fair.
When the first world's fair opened in London,1851- it dazzled. The newest advances in living and design were showcased and within the pages of Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs- one can still be dazzled.
I can myself in the moment with the aid of this book and Wonder.
Brainchild of Prince Albert-patron of the arts, the First World's Fair saw over six million visitors enter Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace triumph made of iron and glass.
Dickinson's comprehensive pictures Scenes from the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Yesterday I went for the second time to the Crystal Palace.
We remained in it about three hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than at my first visit. It is a wonderful place – vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there, from the great compartments filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill machinery in full work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every description, to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
It may be called a bazaar or a fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have created. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it this, with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect.
The multitude filling the great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence. Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from the distance.-Charlotte Bronte, from The Brontes' Life and Letters, by Clement Shorter (1907)
(more of what Charlotte saw that day here)
Jean Valentin Morel Cup made of bloodstone with gold, enamel, emralds, rubies,sapphires and cameos, 1854-55
attributed to Adrien-Louis-Marie Cavelier for Jean Valentin Morel
Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA / The Bridgeman Art Library
In 1893, the World's Fair was in Chicago and my great grandfather Toby attended- returning with a doll-imagine that-a doll for his little son-my grandfather Louis. The doll was indeed a whirligig with a shrill whistle for the rowdy boy-but that whirligig was dressed in pink and ivory satin and silk and possessed the most beautiful china face and golden locks of hair ever to behold.
I'm sure Toby walked along the midway-and though the doll was a pittance to the likes of the decorative artistry of Tiffany-that doll held many a mystery for me on visits to my grandfather's house over the years. I have it tucked away upstairs.
the Midway in Chicago, 1983.
Tiffany Coffeepot, 1893. Silver with enamel, ivory, and jade
Tiffany & Co. United States (New York, NY), 1837–present
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Decorative Arts
Photo: Peter Harholdt
The May 1937 fair was held in Paris at a tenuous time in Europe. Dictators had seized power -at the fair the exhibition pavilions of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were blatant displays of monumentalism and nationalism. As a counterpoint -the Spanish pavilion held Picasso's most brilliant work to date “Guernica,” in protest to war.
the Soviet Union Pavilion, at l., the Spanish Pavilion at r.
Settee, 1937. Josef Hoffmann, silvered wood legs and stylized botanical-wool upholstery is original
Museum of Applied Arts-Contemporary Art, Vienna
Because of technology developed by the time of the fair- we can be in Paris for a glimpse.
The Book-captures brightest and best of the world,detailing over 200 objects spanning the most prestigious years of the fair. Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fair is written by Jason T. Busch,curatorial chair for collections and the Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at Carnegie Museum of Art and Catherine L. Futter ,the Helen Jane and R. Hugh “Pat” Uhlmann Curator of Decorative Arts at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It's accompanied by an exhibition that was at the Nelson-Atkins this summer and just opened at the Carnegie Museum in New York. In the fall of 2013 the Mint Museum in Charlotte will host the exhibition. I'm sure to see it-but til then this wonderful book will suffice.
the book-available at Rizzoli here