Xem thêm

The Aesthetic Movement: Embracing Beauty in Everyday Life

Illustration by Steve Bauer: A pen-and-ink drawing of an Aesthetic room. The Aesthetic Movement, a reaction against Victorian mass production, paved the way for the Arts & Crafts movement and has been hailed as the...

Illustration by Steve Bauer: A pen-and-ink drawing of an Aesthetic room.

The Aesthetic Movement, a reaction against Victorian mass production, paved the way for the Arts & Crafts movement and has been hailed as the "cult of beauty." British luminaries such as Ruskin, Morris, and Oscar Wilde were at the forefront of this movement, which celebrated Japonisme and Anglo-Japanese furniture by E.W. Godwin, as well as the designs of Walter Crane and James McNeil Whistler. The movement found its stronghold in Liberty & Co. in London and captured the imagination of fashionable decorators throughout the 1880s.

The Aesthetic Movement attracted notable figures such as William Morris, William De Morgan, C.R. Ashbee, and Bruce J. Talbert. These visionaries challenged the notion that fine and applied arts should be separate entities, advocating for the integration of beauty into everyday life. Despite Morris's attempt to distance himself from the sometimes-mocked Aesthetic Movement, his popular designs actually helped spread its influence in the United States. By 1870, Morris's wallpapers were being sold in Boston, and his ideas found further traction with the publication of "Hints on Household Taste" by Charles Locke Eastlake in an American edition two years later. The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia also exposed thousands of Americans to the reform movements taking place in England. Oscar Wilde's famous 1882-83 lecture tour of the U.S. further propelled the Aesthetic Movement's popularity.

In the United States, the Herter Brothers, prominent New York cabinetmakers, embraced their own version of the Anglo-Japanese style by the mid-1880s. Aesthetic taste was evident in ceramics and silverware, with motifs such as storks, owls, beetles, and spiders adorning these pieces. Westerners were captivated by Japan's uncorrupted society, untouched by the influence of modern machines.

The Anglo-Japanese style, characterized by flat planes, stylized designs, and nature-inspired motifs, found favor in house styles rooted in vernacular medievalism and the Modern Gothic. Stick Style (known as Eastlake in San Francisco), Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and late Victorian Tudor and Jacobean Revivals all lent themselves well to Aesthetic interior design. Even houses built in the 1860s and '70s, such as Italianate and Second Empire styles, were often redecorated to embrace the Aesthetic trend.

As time went on, the Aesthetic Movement evolved into the Arts & Crafts movement in England and Art Nouveau on the Continent. In America, however, the craze diminished by 1890, giving way to a nostalgic return to the Rococo, cabbage roses, and mauve. Nevertheless, the Japanese influence continued to manifest in the work of architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as in the Prairie School designs and bungalows by Greene and Greene.

The Hallmarks of the Aesthetic Movement

  • Stylized, abstracted ornamentation became the preferred style for carving, wall decor, and textiles. Realistic depictions of flora and fauna, popular during the mid-Victorian era, fell out of fashion.

  • Motifs in the Anglo-Japanese style gained popularity between 1875 and 1885. Cranes, swallows, bamboo, and cherry blossoms adorned furniture and decorative pieces. Medieval and Gothic designs also influenced the motifs and color palettes of the Aesthetic Movement. Reformed or Modern Gothic is another name associated with the Aesthetic and Eastlake styles.

  • Wall treatments followed a tripartite division of dado, fill, and frieze. The fill was often simple, with Japanese-inspired mono-color designs, serving as a backdrop for framed prints hung from picture rails. Oriental motifs frequently adorned wall and ceiling papers.

  • Tertiary colors such as olive, sage, ochre, terra cotta, russet, and peacock blue were favored. This palette drew inspiration from William Morris's revival of medieval formulas and the subdued yet vivid tones found in Japanese woodblock prints.

  • The Aesthetic Movement also gave rise to an Exotic Revival, particularly around 1880, when American fascination with Arabesque ornamentation reached its peak. Moorish tiles, Persian furniture, and Turkish smoking rooms became the rage.

*Interior decorating inspiration from an 1882 Connecticut Queen Anne style home, featuring ebonized woodwork recalling lacquer. - Photography by Edward Addeo

Aesthetes and Philistines

By the mid-1870s, the concept of "Art for Art's Sake" had taken hold in England, transcending the influence of serious-minded medievalists like William Morris. A younger and more flamboyant group of Aesthetes, epitomized by Oscar Wilde, embraced the Cult of Intensity or Aesthetic Craze. This movement brought about new symbols such as the sunflower, lily, and peacock, as well as novel modes of dress and behavior.

To be aesthetic was more than appreciating art; it meant becoming a work of art oneself. The Aesthetes sought to embody artfulness, exuding intense emotions and transcending mere words. The popular catchphrase of the era was "too," conveying the ineffable brilliance and refinement of the Aesthetic experience. The opposite of an Aesthete was a Philistine, someone lacking refinement, culture, and an appreciation for beauty. "Common" was the ultimate insult for an Aesthete. Gilbert & Sullivan were themselves accused of being Philistines when they premiered their operetta "Patience" in 1881, a delightful parody of the Aesthetic Movement.

Interior Visits

If you're captivated by the spirit of the Aesthetic Movement, several historical homes offer a glimpse into this fascinating era of design:

  • 18 Stafford Terrace, also known as the Linley Sambourne House in London, showcases Morris wallpapers, Eastlake furniture, ebonized overmantels, Japanese prints, and stained glass.

  • Chateau-sur-Mer in Newport, Rhode Island, originally built in 1852 and remodeled in the 1870s by architect Richard Morris Hunt, boasts an Eastlake-style billiard room and stairhall, as well as breathtaking main bedroom suites designed in exquisite English Aesthetic taste. The mansion also features an exotic Turkish room.

  • Emlen Physick Estate in Cape May, New Jersey, designed by architect Frank Furness in 1879, is a fine example of the asymmetrical Stick Style. The estate retains its Aesthetic and Modern Gothic interiors, including much of the original furniture.

  • Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts, completed in 1878 by architect William Ralph Emerson, showcases a stone English Queen Anne house with Modern Gothic elements. It features rich woodwork, stained-glass windows, a trussed ceiling, and metallic-paint wall treatments.

  • Glessner House in Chicago, designed in 1887 by architect H.H. Richardson, is furnished with goods from Morris & Co. The house also boasts tiles designed by John Moyr Smith that depict the story of Lancelot and Elaine. Isaac Elwood Scott's "art" furniture is also featured.

  • Green Dining Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was decorated by William Morris, Philip Webb, and Edward Burne-Jones in 1867. The room showcases Elizabethan and Gothic Revival motifs in highly decorated fashion.

  • Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, constructed in 1874 by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter and redecorated in 1881, boasts a world-class Aesthetic interior by L.C. Tiffany's Associated Artists, with work by Candace Wheeler.

  • Olana in Greenport, New York, designed by architect Calvert Vaux in 1872 and decorated by Frederick Church, is an exotic Persian Revival house. The house features an intact color scheme and Middle Eastern stencils by the artist.

  • Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., was decorated by James McNeil Whistler in 1877. The room, originally located in London, is a remarkable surviving example of the Anglo-Japanese Aesthetic style, characterized by intense color and gold leaf.

Interior decorating inspiration from an 1882 Connecticut Queen Anne style home. - Photography by Edward Addeo

The Aesthetic Movement may have faded into history, but its influence remains palpable in the world of design. From the intricacies of wall treatments to the balance of stylized motifs, this movement embraced beauty in all forms, leaving an indelible mark on the way we appreciate art and design today.