What is the Aesthetic Movement?
The Aesthetic Movement refers to a period of time in the late 19th century (1870-1900) which was a backlash to the formal Victorian years.
Artists and writers of the Aesthetic movement period maintained the belief that art should provide refined sensuous pleasure, rather than convey moral or sentimental messages. They believed that art did not have any didactic purpose; it need only be beautiful.
Japanese art had a great influence on Aestheticism. Aesthetic interiors were often decorated with Japanese prints, screens, fans and other objects. An appreciation of the art of Japan is seen in the work of many Aesthetic artists and designers such as James McNeill Whistler and E.W. Godwin.
photo credit Country Living
The Aesthetes developed the cult of beauty, which they considered the basic factor in art. They ascertained that life should copy art and considered nature as crude and lacking in design in comparison. The main characteristics of the movement were: suggestion rather than statement, sensuality, massive use of symbols, and effects of correspondence between words, colors and music.
Aesthetic movement pieces which range from furniture to pottery are characterized by several common themes:
- Ebonized wood with gilt highlights
- Japanese influence
- Prominent use of nature, especially flowers, birds, ginko leaves, and peacock feathers.
- Earthenware, porcelain and china.
The Aesthetic Movement influenced transferware designs of Asian styled scenes with asymmetric, bold and geometric patterns. Oftentimes the Aesthetic Movement pieces will have a scene inset on the piece like this very large, unmarked, Circa 1880's platter. Note the two borders of differing geometric patterns, three circular insets each having geometric patterns and the semi-circular arch containing butterflies and bamboo. To the left is the inset scene of a windmill. This piece has a hand painted border of aqua around the edge and each circle has color.
Brown is probably the most common color found in Aesthetic pieces though blue, green, red/pink, black and purple may also be found in these styles. Some are hand painted in areas (hand enameled, clobbered or hand painted/polychrome) over the transfer, adding color.
Part of my collection is this 1880's figural pitcher by Ridgway in a pattern called Vistas. It has an unusual, Asian styled dragon handle and is decorated with scenic insets onto the botanical background of bamboo and sunflowers.
Sunflowers were the most popular Aesthetic motif. With its bold colour and simple flat shape the flower had great appeal for Aesthetes.
Below is a stunning clock in blue and white with a sunflower motif'
This is a Sunflower themed platter in the Marlborough pattern by D B & Co (Dunn & Bennett)with a registration date of Feb 12, 1883. I sold this piece about a year ago. I think it's just beautiful! Don't you?
Here is a stunning, hand carved table representing furniture of both the Aesthetic and Victorian times with a Sunflower motif. Note the incredible carved legs, skirt and ball and claw feet.
I put this Aesthetic set in brown and white together (Purchase HERE)
Female followers of the Aesthetic Movement dressed in distinctive loose, flowing garments in subtle colours, which were modelled on medieval styles. Fashionable men favoured velvet suits with knee breeches.
The poet and writer Oscar Wilde was the leading personality of the Aesthetic Movement. He promoted the philosophy of 'art for art's sake' in a series of lectures in America and Britain. Wilde was a famous dandy and wit. He is best known for plays such as Lady Windermere's Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was later turned into a novel. In 1895, at the height of his success, Wilde was tried and imprisoned for homosexuality. With his downfall the Aesthetic Movement lost its popularity.
Oscar Wilde in knee breeches
photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London
The peacock feather, previously thought to be a symbol of bad luck, became an icon of the Aesthetic style. Its use as a motif confirmed Aestheticism's reputation for decadence.
A large blue and white charger with a Peacock motif
Two different Peacock plates by Spode
The Peacock Room (below) was designed in 1876 -1877 for the London home of F.R. Leyland. Architect and designer Thomas Jeckyll adapted a dining room in the house to accommodate Leyland's collection of blue and white porcelain and a painting by James McNeill Whistler. Whistler was an American-born artist and an important figure in the Aesthetic movement. In his paintings Whistler aimed to express mood and atmosphere through simple shapes, fluid brushstrokes and subtle colors. Whistler and his fellow Aesthetes believed that art was an end in itself, with no wider moral or social implications.
Whistler felt that the décor of Leyland's room did not suit his painting and without his patron's knowledge he painted the entire room deep blue and gold and covered the window shutters and one of the walls with huge, glorious peacocks.
The Peacock Room, photo courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington
I recently acquired this huge red/pink wash pitcher (wish I had the basin as well). I've placed it next to a decanter to give you an idea of how big it is. I just love this piece! It has a thin branch with acorns and oak leaves with the branch extending down and framing the pastoral scene below. The handle has a geometric design. This was made by J F Wileman of Staffordshire and the pattern is entitled Lake Scenery.
This handled cake platter by Grindley in the Daffodil pattern hangs in the powder bath of my home along with some other brown and white plates and platters.
Here is a pretty blue piece called Warwick by J Dimmock & Co circa 1880 (PURCHASE HERE)
My Aesthetic green platter that hangs in the Master Bath, in the Richmond pattern, circa 1880's
Here are some other Aesthetic Movement pieces. Some are for sale (you click the link above each if interested). These will help concrete your idea of what the Aesthetic pieces look like.
Japanesque Vase (PURCHASE HERE)
A colorful grouping of plates and a matching platter depicting flowers, water fowl, birds and Asian influenced floral designs with geometric borders.
The Aesthetic style favored strong, simple colors. Bright blues, greens and especially yellows were very popular. Such colors were used in domestic interiors, often in combination with black furniture. Black was also a dominant color of Aesthetic-style graphic arts.
Below is an olive/loden green platter by Furnivals, dating between 1891-95 (PURCHASE HERE and read more information)
A beautiful brown, 17" platter by T. Elsmore & Son of Tunstall England. The registration mark dates to May 14, 1878 (PURCHASE HERE...there are three sizes available)
A rare and lovely, tab handled, hand clobbered compote by Spode. Available HERE
Another piece by Grindley in the pattern entitled Spring, 1886 (PURCHASE HERE) In the background is a platter entitled Beatrice.
This piece sold a few months back. It is by Doulton's and the pattern is called Oxford. It's a desirable piece in a rich, chocolate brown.
An unusual dipping bowl with a dragonfly motif in blue
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