The cult of beauty

The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 is now open at the V&A Museum in London, and charts the development of the movement through the final decades of the 19th century. Here, we bring you some of stunning images on display.

A painting from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.

About the images

This month, The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 opens at the V&A Museum in London, exploring the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism. The movement, which sought to escape the ugliness and materialism of the Victorian era by creating a new kind of art and beauty, is widely viewed as revolutionary in its redefinition of the relationships between the artist and society.

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The exhibition features paintings, furniture, ceramics, metalwork, wallpapers, photographs and costumes by some of the leading lights of the period – from William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Walter Crane, to George Aitchison and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

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The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, runs until 17 July. Tickets can be purchased online, in person at the V&A or by phone. For more information visit the V&A website.

A painting from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This landmark painting is considered the first picture of the Aesthetic movement, and depicts a sensual woman lost in reverie. The orange marigolds symbolise grief and regret while the apple illustrates temptation. The title, Bocca Baciata, translates as ‘the kissed mouth’. (© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
A painting from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This enchanting portrait is one of a number of works painted by Leighton using the Italian model Nanna Risi. In this most alluring of all his studies, Risi wears a peasant costume and an extravagant fan of peacock feathers, a key Aesthetic motif, is spread behind her head. (© Private Collection care of Christies)
A page from a lifestyle manual as shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Crane’s design illustrated a new kind of publication aimed at those who wished to learn about the latest taste and fashions in decoration. These lifestyle manuals raised the awareness of beauty in the middle and upper class home. (© Stephen Calloway Collection)
A statue of Icarus, a figure from Greek mythology, as shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Gilbert was commissioned to create a large bronze figure and chose to depict the myth of Icarus who melted his wings of wax and feathers by flying too close to the sun, perhaps as a warning against the dangers of youthful ambition. It was first exhibited in 1884.  (© National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff)
An illustration by Aubrey Beardsley, from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Considered one of Beardsley’s greatest works and the largest of his early pen drawings, this complex illustration was inspired by Act II of Wagner’s opera of the same name. It depicts Siegfried after killing the dragon Fafnir in intricate calligraphic detail with graded ink washes. (© V&A Images)
A painting by Frederic Leighton shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Leighton’s late masterpiece painting is based on Venus Leaving the Bath, an ancient statue he had seen in Naples. This sensuous pose shows Psyche raising her dress to reveal her almost naked body, which contrasts with the cool marble of her classical setting. (© Tate, London)
A wallpaper design shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This is an early design for the wallpaper named ‘Fruit’ or ‘Pomegranate’. It features a design of olives, lemons, oranges and pomegranates in typical Morris colours and is important for the way it revealsthe early stages of his working method. (© V&A Images)
A wallpaper design shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Designed using the popular Aesthetic motif of the peacock feather, this was one of the first textiles to be commercially printed using the roller technique. It was sold for home furnishings like curtains and upholstery in the new Liberty’s shop in Regent Street, London. (© V&A Images)
A life-size bronze sculpture from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
Alternatively known as An Athlete Awakening from Sleep, this life-size bronze sculpture was inspired by the moment Leighton saw his favourite model Guiseppe Valona stretching during a break between more conventional poses. The idealised male figure is identifiably classical. (© Royal Academy of Arts, London, photographer P Highnam)
A portrait by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This full-length portrait was the first of Whistler’s celebrated series Symphonies in White, all three of which will be brought together for the exhibition. Wearing a simple white dress, a girl stands against a pale curtain, grasping a single lily, a significant accessory of the period. (© National Gallery of Art, Washington)
A spiral gold bangle associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis, shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This spiral gold bangle was fashioned to wrap four times around the arm and is studded with diamonds, turquoise, ruby, sapphire and emerald. It was created in the shape of a snake, which was associated with good luck and renewal and sacred to the Egyptian goddess Isis. (© Private Collection)
Novelty teapots, shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
These novelty teapots were intended to satirise Oscar Wilde and the pretensions of the Aesthetic theory that by surrounding yourself with beautiful objects you too became beautiful. The male on the left wears a sunflower and the female is dressed with a lily – flowers symbolic of Aesthetic taste. (© Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Two vases shown in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
These vases are the only known examples of ceramics designed by Godwin. They are ornamented with Japanese-inspired motifs and were decorated using the ancient sgraffito technique where the layer of creamy-yellow slip glaze was scratched through before being fired. (© V&A Images)
A painting from a new exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. 'The Cult of Beauty' explores the 19th-century artistic movement of Aestheticism.
This painting was inspired by Algernon Swinburne’s poem of the same title about a knight who falls in love with Venus but leaves after becoming full of remorse for his sins. Here, Venus sits with her crown abandoned on her lap while four maidens sing to raise her spirits. (© LaingArtGallery, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)