Decorative Arts at The World's Fairs - Inventing the modern world, 1851-1939.

  • Cross-Culturalism

    World’s fairs were the greatest global gathering places of their time. Visitors could see objects from far-away places and experience many cultures without traveling. Designers and manufacturers from India, the Middle East, China, Japan, Europe and America were inspired by all they encountered.
    Japanese Section of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Centennial Photographic Co. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
  • Vase

    Late 19th-century British manufacturers mined the world’s fair displays of Indian textiles and metalwork for inspiration. In 1878, the Worcester Royal Porcelain Company exhibited this vase derived from Indian metalware jars and textiles, richly enameled with elaborate foliage and gilded arabesques.
    Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878
    James Callowhill, designer, British, 1838–1917. Worcester Royal Porcelain Company, manufacturer, England (Worcester), 1751–present. Vase, 1876. Porcelain with enamel and gilding. 16 x 8 3/4 in. (40.6 x 22.2 cm). Cincinnati Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1887.20.
  • Vase

    This Japanese vase is decorated with a vivid scene of battling samurais in a colorful landscape. The vivid purples and pinks were achieved with the help of German glaze technology which transformed the appearance of Japanese ceramics.
    Shown at the Centennial International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876
    Fukagawa Yeizaemon, Japanese, 1833–1889. Vase, ca. 1875. Glazed and enameled porcelain. 30 x 13 in. (76.3 x 32.9 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art: The General Hector Tyndale Memorial Collection, 1897, 1897-352a.
  • Tea Service

    In this richly decorated tea service by the American silver company Gorham Manufacturing Company, complicated floral patterns were inspired by 19th-century Indian silver made for the British market.
    Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889
    Gorham Manufacturing Company, United States (Providence, RI), 1831–present. Tea Service, 1886–88. Silver with gilding and ivory. Kettle on stand. 16 x 9 x 7 in. (40.6 x 22.9 x 17.8 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas, City, Purchase: the Helen Jane and R. Hugh "Pat" Uhlmann Fund and the John W. Uhlmann Foundation, 2006.20.1-5.
  • Vase

    Japanese ceramic artist Miyagawa Kzan employed an innovative process called kiritōshi (cut through), in which areas of the clay are cut out and then replaced with porcelain paste. Here, the Japanese character for nightingale perches on a plum tree branch.
    Shown at the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition, St. Louis, 1904
    Miyagawa Kōzan, Japanese, 1842–1916. Vase, ca. 1904. Glazed porcelain. 14 x 12 3/8 in. (35.6 x 31.2 cm). The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Acquired by Henry Walters, 1904, 49.1912.
  • Zaire Centerpiece Bowl

    In the Zaire Centerpiece bowl, jeweler Raymond Ruys adapted African forms, styles and hand-craftsmanship in the simple, dynamic design. He was inspired by traditional Congolese works, unifying their solidity with the clean, abstracted lines of the Art Deco style.
    Shown at the Exposition Internationale Coloniale, Maritime et d'Art Flamand, Antwerp, 1930
    Raymond Ruys, designer, Belgian, 1885–1956. Delheid Frères, manufacturer, Belgium (Brussels), 1828–1981. Zaire Centerpiece Bowl, 1930. Silver. 5 1/4 x 10 3/4 in. (13.3 x 27.3 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Purchase: the Charlotte and Perry Faeth Fund, 2002.4.