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".