press release

The exhibition will be arranged in four main chronological sections, charting the development of the Aesthetic Movement in art and design through the decades from the 1860s to the 1890s. As well as paintings, prints and drawings, the show will include examples of all the 'artistic' decorative arts, together with drawings, designs and photographs, as well as portraits, fashionable dress and jewellery of the era. Literary life will be represented by some of the most beautiful books of the day, whilst a number of set-pieces will reveal the visual world of the Aesthetes, evoking the kind of rooms and ensembles of exquisite objects through which they expressed their sensibilities.

In the 1860s the new and exciting 'Cult of Beauty' united, for a while at least, romantic bohemians such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (and his younger Pre-Raphaelite followers William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones), maverick figures such as James McNeill Whistler, then fresh from Paris and full of 'dangerous' French ideas about modern painting, and the 'Olympians' - the painters of grand classical subjects who belonged to the circle of Frederic Leighton and G.F.Watts. Choosing unconventional models, such as Rossetti's muse Lizzie Siddal or Leighton's sultry favourite 'La Nanna', these painters created entirely new types of female beauty.

Rossetti and his friends were also the first to attempt to realise their imaginative world in the creation of 'artistic' furniture and the decoration of rooms. In this period, artists' houses and their extravagant lifestyles became the object of public fascination and sparked a revolution in the architecture and interior decoration of houses that led to a widespread recognition of the need for beauty in everyday life.

One of the most important examples of the mutual influence between artists and designers is to be found in the startling collaborations between James McNeill Whistler and the architect E.W.Godwin who designed the painter's studio, The White House, and created some of the most innovative furniture of the day. Characterised equally by elegance and eccentricity, Whistler and Godwin's work drew upon influences as diverse as ancient Greek art and the Japanese prints and other artifacts just beginning to arrive in Europe.

In the 1870s, the leading Aesthetic artists, Whistler, Leighton, Watts, Albert Moore and Burne-Jones evolved a new kind of self-consciously exquisite painting in which mood, colour harmony and beauty of form were all, and subject played little or no part. The opening of the Grosvenor Gallery (with its famous 'greenery-yallery' walls) in 1877 at last gave the Aesthetic painters a fashionable and glamorous showcase for their much-discussed art. But the decade closed with intense controversy exemplified by the critic John Ruskin's savage attack on Whistler, which prompted the painter's spirited defence of the ideals of 'Art for Art's Sake' in his writings and by the staging of his own exhibitions.

Oscar Wilde, the first celebrity style-guru, invented a brilliant pose of 'poetic intensity', but initially made his name promoting the idea of 'The House Beautiful'. By the 1880s Britain was in the grip of the 'greenery-yallery' Aesthetic Craze, lovingly satirised by Gilbert and Sullivan in their famous comic opera Patience and by the caricaturist George Du Maurier in the pages of Punch.

In the last decade of Queen Victoria's reign the Aesthetic Movement entered its final, fascinating Decadent phase, characterised by the extraordinary black-and-white drawings of Aubrey Beardsley in The Yellow Book.

The exhibition ends with a superb group of the greatest late Aesthetic paintings, including masterpieces such as Leighton's Bath of Psyche, Moore's Midsummer and Rossetti's final picture The Daydream, shown alongside the sensuous nude figures sculpted in bronze and precious materials by Alfred Gilbert and other brilliant younger exponents of 'The New Sculpture'.

The Cult of Beauty
The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900
Kuratoren: Stephen Calloway, Esme Whittaker

Künstler: Frederic Leighton, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb...