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

  • Historicism

    At the earliest world’s fairs, manufacturers displayed objects that united revival, or historical, styles with modern industry. More people could now afford these machine-made objects. The furniture, ceramics and glass also showed the most inventive manufacturing practices or demonstrated the highest level of craftsmanship in recreating past fabrication methods.
    Joseph Nash, The Mediaeval Court at the Great Exhibition, London, 1851. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY.
  • Bookcase

    This monumental bookcase was shown at the first world’s fair held in the United States. Decorated with intricate spires, arches, buttresses and figures dressed in medieval costumes, the bookcase is in the 13th-century Gothic style, popular for libraries.
    Shown at the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, New York, 1853
    Gustave Herter, American (born Germany), 1830–1898. Ernst Plassmann, woodworker, American, 1823–1877. Bulkley and Herter, manufacturer, United States (New York, NY), ca. 1852–1858. Bookcase, 1852–53. White oak, eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, yellow poplar with later stained glass. 134 1/2 x 118 3/4 x 30 1/4 in. (341.6 x 301.6 x 76.8 cm). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Purchase: Nelson Trust through the exchange of gifts, bequests, and other Trust properties, 97-35.
  • Diadem

    The Italian jewelry firm Castellani specialized in works that looked to ancient materials or motifs. This diadem is a precise copy of ancient Etruscan gold victory wreathes.
    Similar designs shown at the London International Exhibition of 1862
    Castellani, Italy (Rome), 1814–1927. Diadem, ca. 1860. Gold. 1 x 5 1/2 x 4 3/8 in. (2.5 x 14 x 11 cm). Private Collection.
  • Coupe

    This coupe, or agate cup, with gold and enameled mounts, is based on 16th- and 17th-century French royal jewels. Works of such intricate beauty promoted historical styles by making a connection with the past in technique, form and material.
    Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1867
    Charles Duron, French, 1814–1872. Coupe, ca. 1867. Agate with gilded and enameled brass. 5 x 7 1/4 x 4 3/4 in. (12.7 x 18.4 x 12.1 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Women’s Committee Acquisition Fund, Gift of Baroness Cassel Van Doorn, by exchange, and Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 2008.76.
  • Lunette

    In this window, mythical creatures and a bearded mask of Neptune display John La Farge’s mastery of color in a design that looks to Renaissance models.
    Shown at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1889
    John La Farge, American, 1831–1910. Lunette, ca. 1880–82. Stained glass. Framed: 34 3/4 x 68 7/8 x 2 in. (88.3 x 174.9 x 5.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Otto Heinigke, 1916, 16.153.1.
  • Corner Cabinet

    Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann created furniture that was both modern and looked to the past. The flattened and stylized vase of flowers of inlaid ivory and light-colored woods indicates the influence of European 18th-century and neoclassical designs.
    Similar designs shown at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris, 1925
    Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, French, 1879–1933. Corner Cabinet, ca. 1923. Macassar ebony and amaranth with ivory. 49 7/8 x 31 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (126.7 x 80.6 x 59.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by Joseph F. McCrindle, Mrs. Richard M. Palmer, Charles C. Paterson, Raymond Worgelt, and an anonymous donor, 71.150.1.