The Aesthetic Movement: A Marriage of the Functional and the Beautiful

Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Art should be created for art’s sake--or so say the aesthetic artists of the late 19th century. "The Aesthetic Movement in America," a current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, proves to be that and more. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of The American Wing, the exhibit features a range of hallmark Aesthetic work including ceramics, furniture, stained glass, textiles, sculptures, paintings and metalwork.

"The Aesthetic movement" explored the concept of beauty as an artistic, social and moral force specifically in the domestic realm. It changed the way artists viewed and created art because it emphasized aesthetic values above social-political themes. It flourished in England, and then moved on to the United States in the late 19th century. It’s chief exponents included Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Aubrey Beardsley and many others. This exhibition allows the viewer to experience its evolution and effect on American art.

This exhibition looks at the past to reveal the progressive tastes and collaborative spirit of this artistic period. It highlights the shifting mentality of artists worldwide. Among various plaques throughout the exhibit, visitors learn bits and pieces of American history as well.

The Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room, the Met’s latest historical interior, exemplifies the epitome of a domestic home influenced by aestheticism. Visitors are invited to walk inside, allowing full immersion. Within the dressing room, it is evident that aestheticism marries the beautiful and the functional. The furniture, lamps, tables, wall paper and other decorative items contain immense detail. They feature aspects of nature and organic shapes, gold coloring, and artistic styles with roots in Japan, China and the Islamic world in the mid to late 19th century.

This exhibition looks at the past to reveal the progressive tastes and collaborative spirit of this artistic period.

Recent acquisitions featured prominently in the exhibition include a leaded glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany. This artwork investigates the early ideas of abstraction. Another stand-out is  La Penche, an oil-painting by Thomas Wilmer Dewing in the early 20th century. His decorative paintings are known for expressing the “art for art’s sake” impulse. The style of the painting contains vivid colors, misty and nostalgic undertones, drawing viewers in with dreamlike figures and wide, whimsical brushstrokes.

Nearly thirty years after the Met’s first major Aesthetic exhibition, In Pursuit of Beauty, the creations of this movement continue to delight and attract viewers to The American Wing while highlighting the splendid artistic traditions of the late 19th century. "The Aesthetic Movement in America" is a glimpse into the past. But more importantly, this exhibition broke down hierarchies previously set up by the artistic academy. Art could now take on different forms, paving the way for modern artists to express themselves in new ways.

This exhibition will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until  Dec 10, 2017.