The Cult of Beauty

(About art, not language.)

Coming soon (February 18th through June 17th) to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco — that’s an art museum — the exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900:

… the first major exhibition to explore the unconventional creativity of the British Aesthetic Movement, tracing the evolution of this movement from a small circle of progressive artists and poets, through the achievements of innovative painters and architects, to its broad impact on fashion and the middle-class home. The superb artworks on view encompass the manifold forms of Victorian material culture: the traditional high art of painting, fashionable trends in architecture and interior decoration, handmade and manufactured furnishings for the “artistic” home, art photography and the new modes of dress.

The Cult of Beauty showcases the entirety of the Aesthetic Movement’s output, celebrating the startling beauty and variety of creations by masters as diverse as artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler, and Edward Burne-Jones and designers E.W. Godwin, William Morris and Christopher Dresser.  The Legion of Honor is the only U.S. venue on the world tour that includes the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. (link)

Modern art before modernism swept the field. And art closely tied to the material culture of daily life (for the upper middle class).

(Hat tip to Paul Placeway.)

A sample from the exhibition: John Spencer Stanhope’s Love and the Maiden, 1877 (tempera, gold paint and gold leaf on canvas).

I thought I’d posted on Burne-Jones before, but apparently not; Phoebe Anna Traquair (here) seems to be as close as I’ve gotten. From the Wikipedia page:

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet (28 August 1833 – 17 June 1898) was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Company.

A characteristic quote:

I mean by a picture a beautiful, romantic dream of something that never was, never will be – in a light better than any light that ever shone – in a land no one can define or remember, only desire – and the forms divinely beautiful – and then I wake up, with the waking of Brynhild.

Here’s “The Heart Desires”, the first in his Pygmalion series:

About the series:

In his Pygmalion series (1875-78), Edward Burne-Jones embodies the classic tale of ideal love and human aspiration in a narrative sequence of four images. In the well-known story, Pygmalion, who finds no living woman beautiful enough for him to love, sculpts an ivory statue of an ideal woman and falls in love with it. He asks Aphrodite to send him a woman like the statue. The goddess answers his prayers by giving life to his work and names her Galatea, whom he then marries.

All very gauzy.

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