Sunday, 3 April 2011


Aestheticism was an extraordinary avant-garde artistic movement which sought to escape the ugliness and materialism of the Victorian era by creating a new kind of art and beauty. Its adherents were also referred to as "decadents" from the decadentismo movements in Italy and France.

"Aestheticism is acknowledged for its revolutionary re-negotiation of the relationships between the artist and society, between the 'fine' and design arts, as well as between art and ethics and art and criticism. Aesthetic sensibilities produced some of the most sophisticated and sensuously beautiful artworks of the Western tradition."
Taking their lead from the pre-Raphaelites, British artists, designers and writers who are today considered the mainstay of Aestheticism include such favourites here at Dolores Delargo Towers as Pugin, Rennie Mackintosh, Beardsley, Swinburne, Whistler, Wilde, Burne-Jones and even William Morris. The style of the decadent aesthetes more or less formed a "bridge" between the Arts and Crafts and the later Art Nouveau fashions.

The imagery of the Aesthetic movement is described by the scholars on VictorianWeb thus:
  • trance and dream;
  • life as a drama, dance, or puppet show;
  • jewels and instances of extreme artifice (the anti-natural), such as - masks, Byzantine goldwork, cosmetics, and the dandy;
  • particularly ornate, perverse, or unnatural examples of natural phenomena, such as orchids and peacocks;
  • perverse people, customs, and events in ancient Rome and Egypt;
  • Japanese style and taste such as lacquered or ebonised wood and blue and white pottery;
  • instances of transience (butterfly, flower, sunset, autumn, self).
The predominant colours of wallpapers, fabrics, ceramic tiles and ephemera were often yellow and green.

"Fearful consequences through the laws of natural selection and evolution of living up to one's teapot."

The movement was heavily ridiculed for its "feyness" (in modern day parlance read "effeminacy" or "camp"), hence the pastiche of the "aesthete" in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience:

When I go out of door,
Of damozels a score
(All sighing and burning,
And clinging and yearning)
Will follow me as before.

I shall, with cultured taste,
Distinguish gems from paste,
And "High diddle diddle"
Will rank as an idyll,
If I pronounce it chaste!

A most intense young man,
A soulful-eyed young man,
An ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical,
Out-of-the-way young man!

A Japanese young man,
A blue-and-white young man,
Francesca di Rimini, miminy, piminy,
Je-ne-sais-quoi young man!

A pallid and thin young man,
A haggard and lank young man,
A greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery,
Foot-in-the-grave young man!

From 2 April until 17 July 2011, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum features a new exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900:
The exhibition will feature paintings, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, wallpapers, photographs and costumes, as well as architectural and interior designs. Included will be major paintings by Whistler, Rossetti, Leighton, and Burne-Jones. Architecture and interior design will be represented by the works of Edward Godwin, George Aitchison, Philip Webb and Thomas Jeckyll, among others. Art furnishings designed by these and others, including William Morris, Christopher Dresser, Bruce Talbert, Henry Batley, and Walter Crane will showcase not only the designers and manufacturers they worked for, but also new retailers, such as Liberty's.
Read more about the exhibition

VictorianWeb - Aesthetes and Decadents

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