07 January 2012

Dreamscapes: The Cult of Beauty

San Francisco will be graced in February with The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 exhibition at the Legion of Honor. It explores the evolution of the British Aesthetic Movement that promoted "Art for Art's Sake". In contrast to the rigid restraints of Victorian society, followers created an enigmatic world. Ideas on art, sex and death, commingled.

One of the artists represented in the show is American born, British based James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903). The man who painted like a butterfly but had the verbal sting of a wasp, captured Christine Spartali wearing a sensuous Japanese kimono posed in front of an oriental screen. The Aesthetic Movement was influenced by the exotic wares that had become available in Europe during the nineteenth century from the Far East. Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys (1829-1904) painted the Arthurian temptress Vivien crowned with peacock feathers holding the apple of temptation. The model was his gypsy lover Keomi, who he took up with after abandoning his wife. Louise Jopling (1843-1933), a prominent woman artist of Victorian England, was painted by one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, John Everett Millais (1829-1896).

In addition to being remembered for his contributions to "The Cult of Beauty", Millais married Effie Gray, the former wife of the art critic John Ruskin. Sadly Ruskin was not able to consummate their six year marriage. The art critic had been a strong supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but did not understand the Aesthetic Movement. Ruskin believed that art had to be realistic and have a moral reason, not the nuanced dreamscapes of "The Cult of Beauty".


  1. Love the Whistler. It is in the Peacock Room at the Freer. Are they lending it for the show?

  2. I thought of you, Mme Peacock, when I saw this exhibit here in Paris. I particularly liked the portrait of Louise Jopling who is described as an independant artist every bit as self assured as the painting shows her.

  3. A fascinating and beautifully written essay here...loved it and I am looking forward to the exhibit.

  4. gésbi~ I am honored that you would think of me! As a college art history major, the British Aesthetic Movement was my emphasis. It always interests me how our tastes are formed when we are young. They grow and evolve over time but we return to where we started. I hope you are having an aesthetic beginning to 2012. Best, Kendra

  5. Philip~ Thank you so much, I am very excited about this upcoming show. It is a good omen for 2012.

    Dandy~ I know that Whistler will be represented in the exhibit. Whether or not The Princess from the Land of Porcelain will be included I do not know. I am just very partial to it since it is in the Peacock Room.

    Best, Kendra

  6. Kendra it looks to be a wonderful exhibit!!Thank you for the information and luscious images!

    All the Best!

    Art by Karena

  7. We hope to be there - having missed it in London by my having surgery last summer. We bought the book, of course, bringing my total of books about the Aesthetic Movement to three.

  8. So good to hear from you Blue. I would love to meet you and the Celt in person if you make it out to the Wild West. I myself just received the exhibition book for the show as a cherished birthday present. Best, Kendra


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