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The Victorian art world and the beginnings of the aesthetic movement Boilesen, Elizabeth Louise

Abstract

In the late 1870's English society witnessed the rise of the aesthetic movement, a phenomenon which affected the art and literary worlds and which was characterized then and later as the pursuit of art for art's sake. The notoriety of the movement at the time obscured its exact limits and the origins of its ideas and values. The intellectual and literary side of the movement, especially the ideology of art for art's sake, attracted most notice and comment, yet the plastic arts of painting and industrial design were crucial to the theories of aestheticism and its impact on Victorian culture. This thesis examines those plastic arts, and the social and economic contexts in which they had a place, and their relationship to the aesthetic movement. The aim of this thesis is to describe the cultural context in which the aesthetic movement in the arts developed. The aesthetic movement came at a time when most critics would agree that Victorian design in the fine and industrial arts was at a low point, and did much to stimulate higher standards in both fields. The reasons for this failure and subsequent recovery have been incompletely researched and, I think as a result, incompletely understood. The social and economic changes in the fine and industrial art worlds form a large part of this study out of necessity and in dealing with the mechanism of the art markets, the changing status of the painter, the rise of the industrial designer and the growing activity of the middle-classes in the art world, I have attempted to demonstrate that the aesthetic movement was merely an offshoot of a larger cultural problem, a problem which the Victorians could not solve. Behind the aesthetic movement was the problem of reconciling the mechanism and mechanistic rhythms of modern society with art and the values which art represented, especially individualism, humanism and the knowledge of life sprung of faith rather than science. The solutions and compromises which earlier Victorians had accepted were no longer possible to many people in the 1870's.

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