This spring, the V&A will present the most comprehensive exhibition ever
staged on the Aesthetic Movement in Britain. Prizing the importance
of art and the pleasure of beautiful things above all else, it was
the first artistic movement to inspire an entire lifestyle.
Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 will gather for the
first time many of the greatest masterpieces in painting together
with sculpture, design, furniture and architecture as well as
fashion and literature of the era. Aestheticism created an
unprecedented public fascination in the lives of artists. This
exhibition will explore the dazzling array of personalities in the
group including William Morris, James McNeill Whistler, Frederic
Leighton, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Oscar
Aestheticism was a British movement born as a reaction to the art
and ideas of the Victorian establishment. The exhibition traces
its development from the romantic bohemianism of a small avant-garde
circle in the 1860s to a cultural phenomenon, concluding with the
final Decadent phase at the end of the 19th century. The style as
characterized by a widespread use of motifs such as the lily, the
sunflower and the peacock feather, drawing on sources as diverse as
Ancient Greek art and modern day Japan. It was at the V&A that
scholars first identified and studied the movement.
Sir Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “Art as
important for its own sake, beauty to be valued for itself alone –
the ideas proposed by the Aesthetic movement are current again
today. This exhibition, drawn from a wide range of public and
private collections, will be the richest and most complete picture
of this extraordinary movement yet."
The exhibition will
include over 250 objects and is set out in four broadly chronological sections spanning the decades from 1860-1900: The
Search for a New Beauty, Art for Art’s Sake, Beautiful People and
Aesthetic Houses, and Late Flowering Beauty.
Detail of Laus Veneris
clear artistic ideal that emerged from the confusion of styles in
the mid-19th century was the ‘cult of beauty’ that brought together
the Pre-Raphaelite bohemians like Rossetti, maverick figures such as
Whistler and the painters of grand, classical subjects like Leighton
and G. F. Watts. These painters chose unconventional models like
Elizabeth Siddal to create an entirely new type of beauty where
mood, colour and harmony were more important than the subject.
public became mesmerized by the extravagant dress and the homes or ‘Palaces of Art’ of figures like Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
The exquisite interiors and collections within these houses inspired
aristocrats, intellectuals and entrepreneurs across the country to
reproduce a similar style in their own homes. A number of set pieces
within the exhibition will evoke interiors of the day such as the
celebrated Grosvenor Gallery exhibition, Whistler’s Peacock Room and Rossetti’s bedroom in artistic Chelsea. Fashionable dress,
accessories and jewellery will be shown in relation to portraits of
key figures in the movement.
style permeated all areas of life and many leading manufacturers of
furniture, ceramics, metalwork, wallpaper and textiles such as
Liberty’s of London capitalized on public interest by commissioning
prominent designers including Walter Crane and Christopher Dresser.
Coinciding with the growth in domestic markets in industrial
Britain, the resulting designed products were among the first that
were widely accessible to an aspiring middle class, transforming the
furnishing and decoration of the home.
Wilde was the original celebrity style guru and he played a crucial
role in promoting the idea of beauty in the home. As the Aesthetic
movement entered its heyday, it was affectionately satirized in
Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Patience and in the pages of Punch.
Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 has been organized
in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. After
London, it will travel to the Musée D’Orsay in Paris in September
2011 before travelling to the de Young
Museum (part of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco), opening in February 2012.
Please note: Cult
of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 is curated by Stephen Calloway at the
V&A and Dr Lynn Federle Orr at The Fine Arts Museums of San
exhibition is being designed at the V&A by OPERA.
Tickets: £12 (concessions available).
information or advance bookings visit
(a booking fee applies).
– Bank of America Merrill Lynch
company doing business in more than 100 countries, and with nearly
employees, Bank of America Merrill Lynch helps a broad spectrum of
thrive, and deliver greater cultural awareness. Support comes in
many forms such as grants, sponsorships and loans from its own art
collection, and most recently, the launch of the Bank of America
Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Programme. Bank of America Merrill
Lynch supports nearly 6,000 arts organizations worldwide, in the
belief that greater cultural understanding can foster increased
opportunities for communities.
Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860–1900 (Stephen Calloway &
Lynn Federle Orr) will be published to
accompany the exhibition. It will include essays by Elizabeth
Prettejohn, Penny Sparke and Christopher Breward.
We encourage you to follow this link for additional information on
The Cult of Beauty and the Victoria & Albert Museum online...