Wednesday, 4 December 2013

In pursuit of Beauty

Back in 2011, the V&A's exhibition The Cult of Beauty explored the rise of the Aesthetic movement in Britain.  Members of the Aesthetic movement - including artists such as Whistler, Rossetti and Leighton - wished to escape the ugliness they saw resulting from Britain's Industrial Revolution; and wanted instead to create an escapist world of 'Beauty'.

At the time, the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture lent a number of objects to that exhibition, drawn from the Silver Studio collection.  The original exhibition toured to the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, and then to the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.  Now a revised version of the exhibition is to be shown in Tokyo, with the title Art for Art's Sake, and two objects from MoDA's collections will again be on show.

The exhibition explores the way in which the traditional boundaries between the 'fine arts' and 'design' were blurred by the Aesthetes, as they sought to transform not just paintings, but their whole domestic environments.  Thus interior design, furnishings and dress were just as much of interest to the Aesthetic movement as were traditional oil paintings.

Design for decoration of door and wall, Arthur Silver for the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD3)
Design for a drawing room, by Arthur Silver of the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD4)

These two designs for interiors are unusual within the Silver Studio collection in that they depict decorative schemes for rooms, rather than the designs for flat patterns - wallpapers and textiles -which form the bulk of the collection.  They show the way that Aesthetic movement ideas were borrowed by designers and adapted for a mass market.  By the 1880s, when these were created, the Aesthetic movement motifs of peacock feathers, fans etc, had become commonplace within the wider market, not just among a small elite.

The exhibition Art for Art's Sake will be on show at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo from January until May 2014.

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