World’s Fair of 1873 in Vienna

In 1873, Vienna hosts the World’s Fair, commissioned by Emperor Franz-Joseph I to promote international exchanges in Austria-Hungary. Vienna becomes indeed a capital of arts and culture after this major event, that surpasses the former exhibitions with its gigantic dimensions.

France stands particularly out for its artists, and in particular its art foundries and ceramists in the decorative arts. The Marchand house provides a circular couch for the event, with a little fountain and plants in the center, designed by Eugene Piat. Prices of Honor are awarded to Barbedienne, Christofle, Durenne, the manufactories of Sevres and Saint-Gobain, and Theodore Deck.

The latter shows beautiful ceramics tinged with Japanism, an idea that will inspire the Zsolnay Factory of Austria-Hungary, which is attending the exhibition for the first time. The discovery of Japan continues indeed, and the public discovers a Japanese garden with bonsai, where paper fishes are floating in the sky.

Spelter (or zinc)

Today, the art market calls "spelter" (French : régule) both the zinc, whose low cost contributed to the popularization of the sculpture and which was used during the 19th century for the production of sculptures and works of art, and the real spelter which appears at the end of this century and which is an alloy of tin or lead and antimony.

Zinc sculpture as spelter can be covered with copper and then gilded but they are most often tinted with golden, silver or polychrome pigments to give them a certain patina similar to the bronze patina. Some works of art were thus both made up of spelter and bronze.

Although zinc and spelter do not have the same solidity nor the same sound as those of the bronze, the confusion is easy, so much so from 1910 the manufacturers of zinc sculpture were forced to affix on their works "imitation bronze". Sculptures, clocks, candlesticks, vases or planters will be made in spelter, until the 1930s in particular.


Linked to the current political events with the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the colonization, Orientalism grows during the 19th century and is characterized by an important occidental interest for foreign lands.

First very present in literature and painting, Orientalism, thanks to the World's fairs, soon inspires architecture and decorative arts, and gives a certain forms and patterns renewal to ceramists and glassmakers in particular, such as Theodore Deck and Philippe-Joseph Brocard. The Barbedienne and Christofle houses will be the Parisian paragons of this dreamed East.

With the rediscovery of quarries in Algeria, onyx also becomes a privileged material, which Charles Cordier, especially, will exploit. Although decors are sometimes fantasized and create with multiple inspirations, the artists make a point of honor reproduce, even compete, with traditional techniques.