The Aesthetic Movement
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The Aesthetic Movement

By (author) Lionel Lambourne

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The Aesthetic Movement swept through England in the latter part of the nineteenth century, touching every sphere of the fine and decorative arts and bringing a new freedom to all aspects of design. In architecture, the dogmatism of Gothic gave way to the charm of Queen Anne. In interiors, heavy Victorian forms were replaced by the lighter, fresher Japanese-inspired shapes; in the graphic arts, innovative methods - coupled with a new approach to form - led to the revitalization of illustration and book design. Personified by such colourful figures as James McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, the movement was held together by the coherence of its philosophy and its adamant faith in elegance and richness. This beautiful and witty book will prove invaluable to enthusiasts of design and architecture and to all those intrigued by the social history of the period.

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  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 258 x 298 x 32mm | 1,818.9g
  • 13 Jun 1996
  • Phaidon Press Ltd
  • London
  • English
  • 140 colour and 80 b&w illustrations
  • 0714830003
  • 9780714830001
  • 1,195,746

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Author Information

Lionel Lambourne was Head of Paintings at the Victoria & Albert Museum from 1986 to 1993. He has travelled widely as a curator of exhibitions throughout Great Britain, Germany and Japan. His publications include Utopian Craftsmen (1980) and Victorian Painting (1999), also published by Phaidon.

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Review quote

'A volume to be read for its witty prose as well as to feast on with the eyes. A delightful book about artists who placed beauty above all.' (The New York Times)

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Review text

The peculiar sensibility of the 1890s, with its obsession with the 'pursuit of beauty', had its origins in the 'greenery-yallery' Aesthetic craze of the previous decade. Lambourne's magisterial and beautifully illustrated survey effortlessly weaves the various threads of the story together, assessing the artistic achievements of the main protagonists of the movement, illuminating their characters with anecdotes, and subtly debunking the high seriousness of it all by affectionately quoting from contemporary journalistic parodies and music-hall humour. Reviewed by Stephen Calloway, author of 'Baroque, Baroque' (Kirkus UK)

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Back cover copy

Originating from the Greek, aesthetics is the name which has been given since classical times to the study of beauty and the nature of the beautiful. In the second half of the nineteenth century, fuelled by the writings of Walter Pater and Baudelaire and the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, British poets, painters, designers and architects began to turn to aesthetic concerns and to place more emphasis on ornament and on the past. The result was the Aesthetic Movement and a new freedom in all aspects of the fine and decorative arts. In architecture, the dogmatism of Gothic gave way to the charm of Queen Anne. In interiors, heavy Victorian forms were replaced by the lighter, fresher Japanese-inspired shapes and in the graphic arts, innovative methods, coupled with a new approach to form led to the revitalization of illustration and book design. Believing that beauty should permeate every sphere of life, the Aesthetes' rallying cry was 'Art for Art's Sake'. Oscar Wilde, one of the movement's most characteristic and charismatic members, was heard to complain about the difficulty of 'living up to one's blue and white china' and his flamboyant dress and lifestyle made him one of the most widely known figures of the late nineteenth century. Together with James McNeill Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley and a host of other colourful figures, Wilde felt very strongly about elegance and richness and it was this very coherence of philosophy that held the Aesthetic Movement together and gave it a lasting influence. From the languid figures of Rossetti to the sunflowers of Wilde and the flamboyance of Ellen Terry, Aesthetic motifs cannot be easily forgotten.

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