A Worldly Affair: Celebrating Industry and the Arts

Launch Slideshow

Variously known as World’s Fairs, Expositions or Great Exhibitions, the series of massive events that began with the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 helped to define 19th-century art, science and industry and ushered in the modern world. Held all over the globe, the fairs provided an opportunity for nations to demonstrate examples of their skill, creativity and technical innovation. For a host city to stage a fair was at once a burden and a triumph – the costs of building and planning were exorbitant, but if successful, the arrival of millions of visitors would cement the reputation of the host city. For the most wealthy connoisseurs of art, the fairs represented a rare opportunity to acquire some of the finest works of art of the time – and many paid eye-watering sums in doing so. Click through for fine examples of silver, ceramics, furniture and other decorative arts from our Luxe: The Art of the Table sale, some of which were displayed at the most famous of these world’s fairs.

A Worldly Affair: Celebrating Industry and the Arts

  • Property of a Distinguished Collector. Antoine-Louis Barye, Thésée combattant le centaure Biénor (Theseus combatting the centaur Bienor), 1862. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    This monumental bronze sculpture, the second of Barye’s two mythological works, depicts a moment when Theseus kills the Centaur Bianor, a scene from the war between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, described in Book XII of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. First shown in plaster at the Salon of 1850, the bronze version of this size was also shown to acclaim at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The 1862 London exhibition also saw the first appearance of plastic, patented Parkesine after its inventor Alexander Parkes.

  • Property from the Lichtblau Collection. A Victorian enameled silver-gilt and cut-glass toilet set in a brass-mounted rosewood case, Thomas Johnson I, London, 1861. Estimate: $6,000–8,000.
    This toilette set completed in 1861 was very possibly also included in the International Exhibition of 1862. The firm Leuchars & Son, who made the case for the set, was represented at a number of exhibitions, including the Great Exhibition of 1851, the International Exhibition of 1862 and the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

  • Property of an English Gentleman. Elkington & Co ltd, A cloisonné enamel-gilt brass vase, circa 1876. Estimate: $8,000–12,000.
    This vase, inspired by Chinese and Japanese forms, was exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the first official world’s fair held in the United States. A celebration of the progress of the nation, the fair also exhibited the hand and arm of the Statue of Liberty and saw the first public appearance of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.

  • Property from an Important New York Estate. Ferdinand Barbedienne, An important Napoleon III gilt-bronze and cloisonné enamel cabinet, designed by Louis-Constant Sevin, dated 1867. Estimate: $40,000–60,000.
    This impressive cloisonné cabinet made by the Parisian industrial art company Maison Barbedienne was exhibited at the 1867 Paris Exposition and was later part of William H. Vanderbilt’s famed collection.  

  • Théodore Millet, A fine and important gilt bronze, satinwood, stained sycamore and fruitwood marquetry armoire, Paris, circa 1900. Estimate: $40,000–60,000.
    This exquisite armoire was part of a bedroom suite exhibited by the Parisian firm Maison Millet at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. The 1900 fair is widely acknowledged as the moment when the Art Nouveau style had fully bloomed, and this cabinet, with its flowing lines and sinuous floral marquetry, encapsulates that style. This cabinet also bore witness to the first appearance of the escalator, diesel engines, and talking films – as these were all shown for the first time at the 1900.

  • A rare and large pair of KPM ormolu-mounted figural nine-light candelabra, circa 1890. Estimate: $18,000–22,000.
    This rare pair of ormolu-mounted candelabra by the German Royal porcelain factory (KPM) were designed by Paul Schley in 1888. The form was exhibited, together with a clock, at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St Louis. The fair saw the first ever public balloon flight, cementing St Louis’s place in the history of aviation.

  • Property from the Collection of Marjorie S. Fisher, Palm Beach. A set of twelve Century pattern dinner plates and ten bread plates, designed by Arthur L. Barney, Tiffany & Co., New York, circa 1940. Estimate: $15,000–20,000.
    The Century pattern was introduced in 1937 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tiffany & Co., and this model was shown alongside a number of other Art Deco objects at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which drew over 44 million visitors.


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