Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness

Napoléon Sarony (1821-1896), Portrait of Oscar Wilde, 1882



Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), The Climax : illustration for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé,  1894

Edward William Godwin (1833-1886), Sideboard, 1867-1875



Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), Pavonia, 1858-1859



Thomas Armstrong (1832-1911), The Hay Field, 1869

James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Symphony in White, n°2 : The Little White Girl, 1864


Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), Diamond teapot, Circa 1879


Arthur Silver (1853-1896), Peacock furnishing fabric, 1887

Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde

This exhibition explores the British “aesthetic movement” that, in the second half of the 19th century, set out to move away from the ugliness and materialism of the time, by proposing a new idealisation of art and beauty. Painters, poets, decorators and designers defined an artistic style freed from the principles of order and Victorian morality, and allowing the expression of sensuality.

From the 1860s to the last, decadent decade of Queen Victoria’s reign – she died in 1901 – this movement is seen through the emblematic works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, James McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. They all united in a quest to combine artistic creation and lifestyle, a quest that found fertile areas of expression in photography, the decorative arts, literature and modes of dress.

The artists of the Aesthetic Movement, as it came to be known, sought nothing less than to create an art form freed from the established precepts of the Royal Academy, liberated from social conventions. This was the arrival of “Art for Art’s sake”, an art that existed only in order to be beautiful. The images painted by the Aesthetes did not tell stories or preach sermons; their sculptures were visual, tactile delights, hinting at sensual pleasures; their poetry aimed to be “pure”.


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