Several early small exhibitions of industrial products were around Europe. These are often referenced as ‘Products in Industry’ exhibitions. Of these two are considered significant – one that was held in Geneva in 1789 and the other in Hamburg in 1790.
Geneva’s motto post tenebras lux meaning ‘after darkness, light’ and reflects upon its part in the Enlightenment. This represents an appropriate maxim for exhibitions.
Sadly, little can be discovered of the Geneva event, just the bare fact that there was a trade exhibition of industrial products held in 1789.
The painter, engraver, watercolorist and enamelist, Henri L’Evêque of Geneva, had accompanied Horace Bénédict de Saussure on at least one of his Mont Blanc expeditions, when he explored the Tacul glacier. L’Eveque produced several illustrations that he submitted to the 1789 exhibition, but they appear to have been rejected because of doubts about the expedition’s outcome (The von Mechel engraving above is all we could find on those expeditions). However, it was two Chamonix climbers who had first reached Mont Blanc’s peak in 1786.
1789 is of course the year their neighbour, France, had its Revolution, which would impact upon Geneva three years later. Further, in 1798, the Directory , with the aid of local Jacobins, annexed Geneva, declaring it part of its département du Léman and it submitted in 1802 to the protection of Napoleon I. The emperor distrusted Geneva, calling it that city where they know English too well, based upon the city’s liberal and Anglophile opposition. As a result the French period became an era of stagnation and recession.
However, this annexation has led to speculation that the 1789 Geneva exhibition may have been an inspiration for the 1798 Paris exposition.
It was not until 1814, and after its liberation by Austrian troops, that Geneva fully joined the Swiss Confederation.