The V&A’s Cult of Beauty offers a striking experience, featuring the Aesthetic movement’s introduction of an explosively new, exotic beauty to the Victorian age.

The Aesthetic movement (1860-1900) and its figureheads – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeil Whistler, and Frederic Leighton, attempted to shatter the mundanity of the quotidian and find fresh beauty in life. This desire for beauty is exemplified in the exhibition in the numerous female portraits where the subject is central. From the artists’ desire to elicit a further aesthetic response in the general audience emerged synesthesia in the 1870s, where the subject of the painting acts as a vehicle around which colour-harmony and beauty can parade itself, marrying senses and stimuli to create a gestalt experience.

…a look beyond traditional classicism…

Consequently, beauty quickly became a desire in every-day life, resulting in a celebration of interior Aesthetic style. Unique pieces of furniture and artistic sketches for interior decorations are both on display. In one of the final rooms there is an impressive 360 virtual rendition of Whistler’s celebrated gold and green Peacock Room.

The exhibition is a look beyond traditional classicism to recognise the exotic qualities of art through artistically arousing decadence. As the Aesthete poet Algernon Swinburne said, “its reason for being is to be.”

The Cult of Beauty runs until 17th July.

Admission: £7/£13.50.

4 Stars

Image courtesy of Christie’s

About The Author

Pamela Carralero graduated with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Royal Holloway University of London and is currently pursuing an MSc in Literature and Transatlanticism at the University of Edinburgh.

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