Queen Victorias Artists, showing at Aidan Meller Fine Paintings
, Oxford, combines the very best of The Aesthetic Movement.
This umbrella term is used to cover distinct strains of Romantic art which emerged in the 1870s. One of its main features is a mixing of Romantic or Pre-Raphaelite ideas, with academic styles.
Aestheticism saw artists move towards the position of art for art's sake. In other words aesthetic experience was valid on its own terms, it needed no moral justification. People started to think that art was like music: it was all about making the right selections. Art for art's sake was also associated with flamboyance, with characters like Oscar Wilde talking about the difficulty of living up to one's blue and white china. In some way they moved back to the idealisation done by Reynolds, but not for moral reasons, but purely aesthetic ones.
This exhibition sub-divides the Aesthetic movements into two halves. Both reject the idea that art should be morally instructional, but the first is more tied to academia and the second to Pre-Raphaelitism.
The Classical Revival section, features work by Frederick Leighton & Lawrence Alma- Tadema. These artists claimed they were opponents of Pre-Raphaelitism, and more closely associated with the RA. They wanted to reconnect art with its European roots. This was not surprising, Leighton trained in Florence and Paris and was President of the Royal Academy from 1878 onwards. Lawrence Alma-Tadema trained at the Royal Academy of Antwerp before coming to England. Their work has many of the same dreamy qualities of Pre-Raphaelitism, only it is ancient Greece and Rome they are dreaming of not medieval England or Arthurian myth. We see this in the subject matter and architectural backgrounds used in the work. The sense of identification with the classical world got stronger over the course of the century as the British dominance of the world got more powerful.
The other dominant strain of the Aesthetic Movement shown in the exhibition is called Decadent or Symbolist. It follows on closely from Pre-Raphaelitism but rather than having a moral side to it, the aesthetic experience is the be-all and end-all. Nostalgia and fantasy come to the fore, particularly in the work of John Everett Millais.
Together they represent a time of great beauty in British art and reflect a time of great power and influence on these shores.