Aesthetic Zac

'Aesthetic Zac'
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

see also - Zac Sawyer - The Male Nude

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James McNeill Whistler
Edward Burne-Jones
Aestheticism (also the Aesthetic Movement) is an art movement supporting the emphasis of aesthetic values more than social-political themes for literature, fine art, music and other arts.
It was particularly prominent in Europe during the 19th century.
In the 19th century, it was related to other movements such as symbolism or decadence represented in France, or decadentismo represented in Italy.
Artists associated with the Aesthetic style include James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Aubrey Beardsley. Although the work of Edward Burne-Jones was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery which promoted the movement, it also contains narrative and conveys moral or sentimental messages hence it falls outside the given definition.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler - (July 11, 1834 – July 17, 1903) - was an American-born, British-based artist. Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly. Finding a parallel between painting and music, Whistler entitled many of his paintings "arrangements", "harmonies", and "nocturnes", emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony.

William Morris 
'The Beguiling of Merlin'
Sir Edward  Burne-Jones
Sir Edward  Burne-Jones, (28 August 1833 – 17 June 1898) was a British artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris - one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement -  on a wide range of decorative arts. Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain. His early paintings show the heavy inspiration of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but by the 1860s Burne-Jones was discovering his own artistic "voice". In 1877, he was persuaded to show eight oil paintings at the Grosvenor Gallery (a new rival to the Royal Academy). These included 'The Beguiling of Merlin'. The timing was right, and he was taken up as a herald and star of the new 'Aesthetic Movement'.

Peacock Room - Aesthetic Interior Design

The Peacock Room was originally designed as a dining room in the townhouse located at 49 Prince's Gate in the neighborhood of Kensington in London, and owned by the British shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland.
Leyland engaged the British architect Richard Norman Shaw to remodel and redecorate his home. Shaw entrusted the remodeling of the dining room to Thomas Jeckyll, another British architect experienced in the Anglo-Japanese style.
He covered the walls with 6th-century wall hangings of Cuir de Cordoue that had been originally brought to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Aragon.

'Rose and Silver:
The Princess from the Land of Porcelain'
James McNeill Whistler
They were painted with her heraldic device, the open pomegranate, and a series of red roses, Tudor roses, to symbolize her union with Henry VIII. Against these walls, Jekyll constructed an intricate lattice framework of engraved spindled walnut shelves that held Leyland’s collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain.
James McNeill Whistler's 'Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain', served as the focal point of the room.
'Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain' (better known as The Princess from the Land of Porcelain; also known by the French title 'La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine') was painted between 1863 and 1865.
The ceiling was constructed in a pendant panelled Tudor-style, and decorated with eight globed pendant gas light fixtures.
To finish the room, Jekyll placed a rug with a red border on the floor.

Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement

Oscar Wilde - 1882

Oscar Wilde is often cited as being a significant individual with regard to the rise of Aestheticism.

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on 16 October 1854, and died on 30 November 1900).

After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s.

Today, however, he is mainly remembered for his (often trite) epigrams, his novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', his involvement with the Aesthetic movement (as lampooned by Gilbert and Sullivan in their comic operetta 'Paitence' (see below) and, of course, the foolish flaunting of his homosexuality.
Homosexuality, in England, was against the law, but the 'well connected' and wealthy were safe, as long as they were 'discreet'.

'Bosie' - Alfred Douglas
(looking suspiciously like 'rough trade')
'Aesthetic' Drawing of Lord Alfred Douglas
Sir William Rothenstein
Wilde was not discreet, and along with numerous sexual exploits with young boys ('rough trade' that no one cared about), he foolishly took up with Lord Alfred Douglas, who was the son of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry - who was rabidly  intolerant of homosexuality.
While Alfred Douglas was idolized by many, both for his looks (see right) and his 'poetry', in fact he was, at best, a 'third rate' 'aesthetic poet', (specialising in Uranian subjects) and, rather than handsome, he resembled very much the 'rough trade' (see left) that Wilde usually consorted with.

Uranian is a 19th-century term that referred to a person of a third sex - originally, someone with "a female psyche in a male body", who is sexually attracted to men. It is believed to be an English adaptation of the German word 'Urning', which was first published by activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–95) in a series of five booklets (1864–65) which were collected under the title 'Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe' ("Research into the Riddle of Man-Male Love"). Ulrich developed his terminology before the first public use of the term "homosexual", which appeared in 1869 in a pamphlet published anonymously by Karl-Maria Kertbeny (1824–82). The word Uranian (Urning) was derived by Ulrichs from the Greek goddess Aphrodite Urania, who was created out of god Uranus' testicles. Therefore it stands for homosexual gender, while Aphrodite Dionea (Dioning) is representing the heterosexual gender.

The end result of all of this was that Wilde was sent to prison, and subsequently had to live abroad for the short remainder of his life.
His public humiliation was a substantial blow to the 'Aesthetic' philosophy, which never really recovered in the public perception.
In retrospect, Wilde was, in truth, a rather pathetic parody of the 'aesthetic ideal', and did much damage, at least in England, to the Aesthetic Movement, and the progress of art and design in general.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert
Sir Arthur Sullivan
'Patience'; or, 'Bunthorne's Bride', is a comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera is a satire on the 'aesthetic movement' of the 1870s and '80s in England and, more broadly, on fads, superficiality, vanity, hypocrisy and pretentiousness - and it also satirizes romantic love and rural simplicity.
The opera is a satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and '80s in England, part of the 19th-century European movement that emphasized 'aesthetic values' over moral or social themes in literature, fine art, the decorative arts, and interior design. Often referred to as "Art for Art's Sake", the movement valued its ideals of beauty above any pragmatic concerns. Although the output of poets, painters and designers was prolific, some argued that the movement's art, poetry and fashion was empty and self-indulgent. That the movement was so popular, and also so easy to ridicule as a meaningless fad helped make 'Patience' a big hit.

John Ruskin
Walter Pater
At university, Wilde read 'Greats'; he proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford.
He became known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin.
After university, Wilde moved to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.
As a spokesman for aestheticism, he tried his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems, lectured in the United States and Canada on the new "English Renaissance in Art", and then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist.
Known for his biting, but often very cruel wit, flamboyant dress and cleverconversation, Wilde became one of the best-known personalities of his day.


'The Yellow Book', published in London from 1894 to 1897 by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, later by John Lane alone, and edited by the American Henry Harland, was a quarterly literary periodical (priced at 5s.) that lent its name to the "Yellow Nineties".

'The Yellow Book' - 1897
It was a leading journal of the British 1890s; and was very much associated with Aestheticism and Decadence,
The magazine contained a wide range of literary and artistic genres, poetry, short stories, essays, book illustrations, portraits, and reproductions of paintings. Aubrey Beardsley was its first art editor, and he has been credited with the idea of the yellow cover, with its association with illicit French fiction of the period. 

'Baron Corvo'
Frederick William Rolfe
He obtained works by such artists as Charles Conder, William Rothenstein (see the portrait of Lord Alfred Douglas, above), John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, and Philip Wilson Steer. 
The literary content was no less distinguished; authors who contributed were: Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, "Baron Corvo", Ernest Dowson, George Gissing, Sir Edmund Gosse, Henry James, Richard Le Gallienne, Charlotte Mew, and Arthur Symons.
Though Oscar Wilde never published anything within its pages, it was linked to him because Beardsley had illustrated his 'Salomé', and because he was on friendly terms with many of the contributors. Moreover, in Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' (1891), a major corrupting influence on Dorian is "the yellow book" which Lord Henry sends over to amuse him, after the suicide of his first love.
Aubrey Beardsley

This "yellow book" is understood by critics to be 'À rebours', by Joris-Karl Huysmans, a representative work of Parisian decadence, that heavily influenced British aesthetes like Beardsley. Such books in Paris were wrapped in yellow paper to alert the reader to their lascivious content. It is not clear, however, whether 'Dorian Gray' is the direct source for the review's title. Soon after Wilde was arrested, in April 1895, Beardsley was dismissed as the periodical's art editor; his post taken over by the publisher, John Lane, assisted by another artist, Patten Wilson. Although critics have contended that the quality of its contents declined after Beardsley left and that 'The Yellow Book' became a vehicle for promoting the work of Lane's authors, a remarkably high standard in both art and literature was maintained until the periodical ceased publication in the spring of 1897.
Despite its limitations, however, 'The Yellow Book' was a seminal force in the propagation of the philosophy of Aestheticism.


By the 1890s, new term had become associated with concept of ‘art for art’s sake’.
It has origins in common with aestheticism and the two terms often overlap, and were sometimes used interchangeably.
Decadence’ was initially used to describe writers of the mid-19th century in France, especially Baudelaire and Gautier.
By the century’s end, decadence was in use as an aesthetic term across Europe.
The word literally means a process of ‘falling away’ or decline.
In relation to art and literature, it signaled a set of interlinked qualities.
These included the notion of intense refinement; the valuing of artificiality over nature; a position of ennui or boredom rather than of moral earnestness or the valuing of hard work; an interest in perversity and paradox, and in transgressive modes of sexuality (homosexuality in particular).
One of the outstanding figures in the Aesthetic movement in Europe was Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud
Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud (20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891) was a French poet born in Charleville, Ardennes.
He influenced modern literature and arts, inspired various musicians, and some consider that he prefigured surrealism.
He started writing poems at a very young age, while still in primary school, and stopped completely before he turned 21 (?).
He was mostly creative in his teens (17–20).
French poet Paul Valéry stated that "all known literature is written in the language of common sense — except Rimbaud's".
His poetry influenced the Symbolists, Dadaists, and Surrealists, and later writers adopted not only some of his themes, but also his inventive use of form and language.

The primary element of Decorative Art is utility.

'In the Morning'- 1877
Gustavus Bouvier - Aesthetic Interior
The convenient maxim 'Art for Art's Sake', identifying art or beauty as the primary element in other branches of the Aesthetic Movement, especially Fine Art cannot apply in this context.
Decorative art must first have utility but may also be beautiful.
Decorative art is dissociated from Fine Art.
Important elements of the Aesthetic Movement have been identified as 'Reform' and Eastern Art.
The Government Schools of Design were founded from 1837 on-wards in order to improve the design of British goods.

Break-Front Vitrine - Owen Jones - 1870 - English
Following the Great Exhibition of 1851 efforts were intensified and Oriental objects purchased for the schools teaching collections.

Owen Jones
Owen Jones, architect and Orientalist was requested to set out key principles of design and these became not only the basis of the schools teaching but also the propositions which preface 'The Grammar of Ornament' (1856), which is still regarded as the finest systematic study or practical source-book of historic world ornament.
Jones identified the need for a new and modern style which would meet the requirements of the modern world, rather than the continual re-cycling of historic styles, but saw no reason to reject the lessons of the past.

Christopher Dresser
Christopher Dresser, a student and later Professor at the school worked with Owen Jones on 'The Grammar of Ornament', as well as on the 1863 decoration of The Oriental Courts (Chinese, Japanese, and Indian) at the South Kensington Museum, advanced the search for a new style with his two publications, 'The Art of Decorative Design' 1862, and 'Principles of Design' 1873.

 Electro-plate Silver and Ebony Tea Pot - 1879
Christopher Dresser

Christopher Dresser (4 July 1834 in Glasgow – 24 November 1904 in Mulhouse) was a designer and design theorist, now widely known as one of the first and most important, independent, designers and was a pivotal figure in the 'Aesthetic Movement', and a major contributor to the allied Anglo-Japanese or Modern English style; both originated in England and had long lasting international influence. Some of Dresser’s metalwork designs are still in production, such as his oil and vinegar sets and toast rack designs.
Dresser is one of those awkward individuals in the history of art who, because he was so far in advance of his time, is difficult to categorize. While working during the period of the Aesthetic Movement, his designs often prefigure the aesthetic of the later continental Secession, Jugendstiltyle, and more particularly, Art Deco and Moderne.

Production of Aesthetic style furniture was limited to approximately the late 19th century.

Aesthetic style furniture is characterized by several common themes:
Ebonized wood with gilt highlights.
Screen - Nesfield - 1867 - English

Far Eastern influence.
Prominent use of nature, especially flowers, birds, ginkgo leaves, and peacock feathers.
Blue and white on porcelain and other fine china.
Ebonized furniture means that the wood is painted or stained to a black ebony finish.
The furniture is sometimes completely ebony-colored.
More often however, there is gilding added to the carved surfaces of the feathers or stylized flowers that adorn the furniture.
As aesthetic movement decor was similar to the corresponding writing style in that it was about sensuality and nature, nature themes often appear on the furniture.
A typical aesthetic feature is the gilded carved flower, or the stylized peacock feather.

Jardiniere - Minton -1888

Porcelain Night Light - Royal  Worcester - 1873

Vase - Edward Lycett -1884 - American

Glass Vase - Baccarat - 1880 - French

Swan Dado -  Walter Crane - 1877

Christopher Dresser - Wallpaper Freize 

Christopher Dresser - Wallpaper Design

Apple Blosson Wallpaper - Lewis F Day - 1878 - English

Freize Filling and Dado - Bruce Talbert - 1877 - English

Electro Plated Tea Pot
Christopher Dresser

Cabinet - Herter Brothers - c.1880 - American

This is a superb example of the American 'Eastlake Style', which was the American version of the English Aesthetic Movement.

Break-Front Vitrine - Owen Jones - 1870 - English

Screen - Nesfield - 1867 - English

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 'Bacante Durmiendo' - 1850-55
Károly Brocky

'Lily Fairy' - 1888
Luis Ricardo Falero

La Fileuse - 1874
John William Waterhouse

Le coucher de Sappho - 1867
Charles Gleyre

Altar of Dionysus
Gustav Klimt

La Clairiere
Julius LeBlanc Stewart

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Sorcerers Slave - 1877
Thomas Wilmer Dewing

'La Source'
Henry Charles Devilliers

Nude Boy
Franz Jobst

belle-academie jeune homme nu

Dance of the Cymbalists
Lord Frederic Leighton

In the Sculptor’s Studio
Christian Meyer Ross

Knabenakt - Nude  Ephebe
Owe Zerge

Nude Study of a Boy
Christen Købke

Zac's Version of 'Nude Study of a Boy'
based on a painting by Christen Købke

Nude Ephebe in Heroic Pose
George von Hoesslin

Zac's version of 'Nude Ephebe in Heroic Pose'
based on a drawing by George von Hoesslin

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Aestheticism came to the fore, in artistic circles, at around the same time that the European powers began to aggressively pursue their colonial and imperial ambitions. As a result, people in Europe became acutely aware of the various cultures that bordered continental Europe - and in particular, the cultures of the Middle East. This produced a large number of examples of 'fine art' that we now classify 'Orientalist'.

Taj Mahal - 1883
Edwin Lord Weeks

The Orient—including present-day Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa—exerted its allure on the Western artist's imagination in the period around turn of the nineteenth century. Such contact began in 1798, when a French army, led by General Napoleon Bonaparte, invaded Egypt and occupied the country until 1801. The European presence in Egypt attracted Western travelers to the Near and Middle East, many of whom captured their impressions in paint or print. In 1809, the French government published the first installment of the twenty-four-volume 'Description de l'Égypte' (1809–22), illustrating the topography, architecture, monuments, natural life, and population of Egypt. The 'Description de l'Égypte' was the most influential of many works that aimed to document the culture of this region, and it had a profound effect on French architecture and decorative arts of the period, as evidenced in the dominance of Egyptian motifs in the 'Empire style'.
Some of the most popular Orientalist genre scenes - and the ones most influential in shaping Western aesthetics - depict harems. Probably denied entrance to authentic seraglios, male artists relied largely on hearsay and imagination, populating opulently decorated interiors with luxuriant odalisques, or female slaves or concubines (many with Western features), reclining in the nude or in Oriental dress. Beyond their implicit eroticism, harem scenes evoked a sense of cultivated beauty and pampered isolation to which many Westerners aspired. The taste for Orientalism further manifested itself in Eastern architectural motifs, furniture, decorative arts, and textiles, which were increasingly sought after by a European elite. Proponents of the 'Aesthetic Movement', who collectively advocated an aesthetic of 'beauty for its own sake', and valued form over content in art, took particular inspiration from Oriental interiors. This taste is exemplified in the Arab Hall (1877–79) in the London home of artist Frederic Leighton (1830–1896): glittering with mosaic tiles collected from Leighton's journeys to the East, it served as a gathering place for like-minded aesthetes.

Harem in the Kiosk

Market in Jaffa - 1887
Gustav Bauernfeind 

A Turbaned Oriental
Gabriel Raya Morcillo 

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'Wandering Greek Theater'
Gustav Klimt

While usually associated with the Vienna Secession, Gustav Klimt, in the earlier part of his career was a significant member of the Continental Aesthetic Movement. Although such works as the 'Wandering Greek Theater' (which is actually a fresco) may be mistaken for turn of the century Classicism, it is only the subject matter that is 'classical', whereas the style, composition and execution are all deeply influenced by the philosophy of the 'Aesthetic Movement.

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Hans Makart

Hans Makart

more images and text to follow...

In many ways the Aesthetic movement was a precursor of Art Nouveau ('Art Nouveau Zac' will appear soon).


Art Nouveau ( also known as 'Sezession', and 'Jugendstil' is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art – especially the decorative arts – that was most popular during 1890–1910.

English uses the French name 'Art Nouveau' ("new art"), but the style has many different names in other countries.

A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, and a development of the Aesthetic style, it was inspired by natural forms and structures and curved lines.
Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment.


  1. The photograph you've chose to represent Douglas is actually one of Rimbaud, age 17. Also, as Lord Alfred Douglas was of a high social class, he would not have been considered 'rough trade', as you so charmingly put it.

  2. As you so rightly pointed out, the image is of Arthur Rimbaud - (having just read Rimbaud's biography I came across the photo in question). As to the comment about 'rough trade', you are correct that Douglas would not have been considered as such in his time - but the comment (justified in the case of Rimbaud) was that he may have resembled 'rough trade'. As you can doubtless tell I have little liking for Alfred Douglas, or his poetry.
    Image has been corrected