Directing the eye : stories of modernity and tradition at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition
Evrard, Guillaume Marc Francois
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On the basis of the art and architectural displays at the 1878 Exposition Universelle Internationale à Paris, this thesis investigates the conflicting claims of nationalism; the late nineteenth-century tensions between tradition and modernity; and the disparities between the intentions of the organizers and the perceptions of the visitors. Creating connections between methodological and theoretical issues of interest to art history and museum studies, the argument explores further and refines our understanding of what has been constitutive of Exhibitions. This thesis takes the 1878 Exposition Universelle Internationale à Paris as its focus, in order to further appreciate the extent to which Exhibitions were able to influence their visitors’ minds and bodies. It scrutinizes a wide range of material generated as part of the national participation of the United Kingdom to this event in specific case studies for both breadth and depth of understanding. The examination of material published in 1878 newspapers provides evidence of a critical gaze within the Exhibition boundaries. International and universal Exhibitions have been significant events in producing and conveying various messages about diverse topics to unprecedentedly large audiences. Their rich content entailed the production and consumption of diverse experiences and meanings beyond attempt of controlling bodies and behaviours. The study of the British participation in the 1878 International Street or Rue des nations uncovers the tensions between symbols, taste and technology in architecture. Original research in the archives of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, gives a particular insight in the role of a key institution in the preparation of a national visual arts exhibition in the 1878 Paris Exposition. The examination of the reception of a particular artwork provides a useful counterpoint to these first institutionally-oriented analyses. Focusing on W. P. Frith’s The Railway Station (1862) offers a different perspective to understand the way a vast array of contemporary meanings could impact the reception of a particular work. The investigation of the critical reception of British paintings in 1878 France emphasizes the strength of cultural narratives beyond the specific vision for the Exhibition.