THE CULT OF BEAUTY

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

‘Art for art’s sake’ was its mantra. But the Aesthetic Movement was far more than an artistic style, it was a way of life.


Fleeing the stuffiness of Victorian Britain, the aestheticians craved beauty, above all. They were bohemian, fashionable and had their own poster boy in the figure of Oscar Wilde; the V&A’s spring show The Cult of Beauty is a peek into their world.


Across four chronological sections, there are sumptuous paintings such as Veronica Veronese (1872) by Dante Gabriel Rosetti or Laus Veneris (1870) by Edward Burne-Jones, showing languid ladies, corsetless, their red hair flowing, but also a remarkable array of objects – from fashion to furniture, tea sets and books – evidence of how the movement blurred the boundaries between art and design.


Intricate floral Trellis wallpaper (1862) by William Morris and a projection of James Abbott Whistler’s Peacock Room (1876-7), a stunning interior of Japanese-inspired golden peacock murals on brilliant bluey-green walls, show how the movement forged a new role for the artist as tastemaker in areas such as interior decoration.


Its wealth of content makes the exhibition extraordinarily wide-ranging, almost to a fault. It’s quite a lot to take in. And the endless peacock feathers and dreamy-eyed maidens can become trying if you like your art with a bit of grit. But the Cult of Beauty visually delights, rather than provokes, offering surface over substance – which is, of course, kind of the point.


The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement  runs until 17 July, 2011 at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Visit vam.ac.uk/cultofbeauty for more info.


This review originally appeared on the Sociéte Perrier website.

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