The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, through July 17 at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is perhaps most interesting for emphasizing that the Pre-Raphaelites set out to make their living space a Gesamptkunstwerk, complete with paintings, furniture, wallpaper, decorative objects and artistically-clad women, who clearly were part of the decoration; hence the exhibition includes all facets of fine and decorative arts, including photography, printed books and rarely-seen items of jewelry and clothing. Women’s clothing, that is. While the men established, developed and prosthelytized on behalf the style, it didn’t extend to their own dress. Even the dandy, Oscar Wilde, to whom the exhibition devotes a case and who outraged Americans with his velvet suit and knee-length breeches, never intended to meld into his surroundings.
While no museum can match the V&A’s depth in this area, those in the U.S. East Coast, taken together, do a pretty good job. While the exhibition features a large reproduction in the round of Whistler’s Peacock Room, the Freer Art Gallery in Washington has the real thing, and the Delaware Art Museum has a notable collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings and decorative arts which are splendidly exhibited together and to which it devotes a separate website. Both museums contributed to the exhibition, as did the Baltimore Museum of Art , which lent its extraordinary jardinere (below) by Christopher Dresser, that stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it (I wrote about it on June 14, 2007), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (below), which lent a Whistler whose subject is the period’s fascination with Chinese art. The Harvard University Art Museums have a number of huge pre-Raphaelite paintings which were always hung in the corridors of the Fogg’s upper floors, but for some reason they didn’t lend.
The following week I saw another work by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Cardiff, which I discuss below.
aesthetic movement, anselm rehyle, arts and crafts movement, baltimore museum of art, björn dahlem, cardiff, charles saatchi, chelsea, christopher dresser, church reconstruction, church restoration, dante gabriel rossetti, david thorpe, decorative arts, delaware art museum, duke of york's barracks, fogg art museum, freer art gallery, freer gallery, george pace, harvard university art museums, james mcneill whistler, jardinere, joan malinowska, labels, llandaff cathedral, london, matthew brannon, matthew monahan, monographs on contemporary artists, oscar wilde, peacock room, philadelphia museum of art, pre-raphaelites, richard wilson, saachi gallery, sloane square, victoria and albert museum, william morris