20th December 1879. Aestheticism.
Today in 1879 a Punch Magazine cartoon ‘Nincompoopiana’ by George du Maurier’s satirised the ‘Aesthetic Movement’, a leading light of whom was Oscar Wilde.
The Movement used sensual, exotic art and interior design to declare its opposition to vulgar materialism in a desire to create a new ideal of beauty.
One of the most famous of adherents of these ‘Aesthetes’ was Oscar Wilde at a time when art and interior design were strangely entangled with questions of morality, sexuality and personal liberation.(1)
It was a revolt among the ‘precious intelligentsia’ and concerned with poetry, blue and white oriental china and where lilies featured large.
Beauty in wallpaper, painting, architecture, textiles, poems and furniture designed by William Morris all searched for a romantic medieval style.
At Oxford, Wilde in the mid 1870.s decorated his room with peacock feathers and oriental porcelain, and came under the influence of Walter Pater (1839-94), one of the ideological fountain-heads of Aestheticism.(2)
Pater’s work on medieval Italian painting contained remarks on how to live: ‘existence was short; the point was to enjoy it with maximum intensity and to burn with gem-like flame of ecstasy’.
Pater was denounced by the Bishop of Oxford and had to answer to the University authorities for defying conventional morality, in those enlightened days!
The Aesthetes were also enthusiastic about Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1859) especially the stanza : ‘A book of verses underneath the bough/A jug of wine, a loaf of bread-and thou’.
In Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta on Aestheticism, ‘Patience’ (1881), Bunthorne is partly based on Wilde, and centres on a plot where he and Archibald Grosvenor, based on the poet Swinburne, a leader of the ‘Fleshly School’, declaim their poems to an adoring audience of women, where the two military men adopt Aesthetic poses to curry favour.(3)
In 1874 Arthur Lasenby Liberty (Libertys) took the lease of a shop in Regent’s Street, London, grandly called East India House, with many of the fabrics and ornaments, ceramics and furniture reflecting a new aesthetic design style.
(1) In 1883 ‘the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News’ showed a cartoon of Wilde dressed as a convict : in 1895 he was imprisoned at Reading, (where he composed the Ballad of Reading jail), for ‘gross indecency’.
(2) Pater’s ‘The Renaissance Studies in Art and Poetry’, had a ‘strange influence’ over Wilde’s life.
(3) Algernon Charles Swinburne (1839-1909) was a leader of the ‘Fleshly School’ of poetry along with Rossetti.
victorianweb.org/Pic of Nincompoopiana.