Exploring Aestheticism in ‘The Cult of Beauty’.
This painting depicts the young actress Ellen Terry reaching out to the opulent but scentless camellia and discarding the common, but fragrant violets in her hand. National Portrait Gallery, Lon

Was it revulsion towards the high-end Victorian style or was it an influence of the elegant trade products from countries like China and Japan during the 19th century?

For the first time, a major exhibition has been dedicated by the UK based Victoria and Albert Museum to explore the concept of aestheticism in its entirety.

The Aesthetic Movement or the 'new art' movement of the 19th century had revolutionized the sensibilities of art connoisseurs resulting in some of the most sophisticated and sensuously beautiful artworks of the western tradition.

Starting April 2, 2011, the exhibition titled 'The Cult of Beauty' wall feature exquisite artworks by renowned aesthetic artists like Whistler, Rossetti, Leighton, Burne-Jones, William Morris, Christopher Dresser and Bruce Talbert. From fashionable trends in architecture to art photography and new modes of dress, this exhibition traces aestheticism's evolution from the artistic concerns of a small circle of avant-garde artists and authors to a broad cultural phenomenon.

Arranged in four main chronological categories, the exhibition will trace the development of the Aesthetic Movement in art and design through the decades from 1860 to 1890.

The 1860s section will dwell on romantic bohemians like English illustrator and painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848, Rossetti is often regarded as a major precursor of the Aesthetic Movement. Also displayed within this section are creations by maverick figures such as James McNeill Whistler and the 'Olympians' who are regarded as painters of grand classical subjects.

In this period, the focus was more on extravagant lifestyle which evoked the interest and fascination of the general masses, paving the way for the need of beauty in everyday life.

During the period, 1870-1880, an increasing harmony was observed between artists and designers. Leading aesthetic artists like Whistler, Leighton, Watts and Albert Moore started working on concepts where the influence was more on the mood, color harmony and beauty of form rather than on the subject. Although, the artists were not exempted from criticism and controversy, they adhered to their ideals.

By the year 1880, Britain was in the grip of the 'greenery-yallery' Aesthetic Craze, lovingly satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan's famous comic opera 'Patience'. During the last decade of Queen Victoria's reign, often regarded as the final stage of the movement, illustrator Aubrey Beardsley gave a new meaning to aestheticism with his extraordinary black-and-white drawings in the British journal 'The Yellow Book'.