The Aesthetic Movement
Trade Card :: '"Strike Me With a Sunflower" - Oscar Wilde'

In the mid-19th century, the English art critic and theorist John Ruskin planted the seeds that would later flower into the Aesthetic Movement. He led a group of artists, architects and poets in a crusade to elevate the decorative arts to the status of the fine arts. As the movement grew, it spread beyond artistic circles to elite aristocrats and then on to the middle class. The movement would also cross the ocean to be fully embraced in North America.

Central to the movement was the idea that everyone's lives would be enriched if only their surroundings could be made to be beautiful. This was largely a reaction to the disruption wrought by the industrial revolution and a retreat from the excesses of the prevailing Rococo style. As the movement evolved, design giants such as William Morris, Owen Jones, E.W. Godwin, Walter Crane and Bruce Talbert would all have a hand in shaping the aesthetic ideal; freely mixing medieval, classical and oriental motifs to produce the distinctive Aesthetic Movement look.


By the 1870s the Aesthetic Movement was gaining broader appeal and much attention was given to artistic home decoration. Studied spontaneity and casual juxtapositions replaced the stiff and formal room arrangements of earlier decades. Soothing tertiary colors came into vogue with carpets, draperies and wall-coverings all carefully selected to harmonize. Decorated ceilings became popular, and dividing the wall into the horizontal bands of frieze, fill and dado became almost obligatory. Artists and architects turned their attention to designing wallpaper; producing a flood of patterns which decorators combined with abandon to create exquisite effects. For the first time, the average homeowner was treated to decorations that had previously been the exclusive domain of the super-rich.

As the movement reached its azimuth in the last decades of the century, sunflowers, cattails, lilies and other aesthetic motifs appeared everywhere. James McNeill Whistler's infamous decoration of the Peacock Room became an enduring icon of the Cult of Beauty. While Whistler had best articulated the concept of "Art for Art's Sake", his protégée, Oscar Wilde, would emerge as the movement's most effective spokesman. Critics countered the movement-turned-fad by characterizing its followers as too "intense" and by lampooning their ultra-refined tastes and affectations.

Trade Card :: 'People are going "Wilde," (not Oscar) over our Aesthetic designs in Wall Papers.'

In an odd collaboration between critics and champions of the movement, Oscar Wilde toured the United States in 1882 at the invitation of theatrical impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte to prepare the crowds for the North American production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience. Wilde's lectures promoted the art movement even as Patience parodied the pretense and mannerisms of its followers. This contradiction reflected the public's fluctuating relationship with the movement. Indeed many simply responded to the sublime decorations put before them without adopting the underlying philosophy.

The Aesthetic Movement has left us a legacy of striking interiors and audacious personalities, while in its own time, it delighted the public with artistic effects which provided a sanctuary in a rapidly changing world. At a time when beauty is once again a precious commodity, we trust these designs will delight the current generation seeking to create an artful home. In short, we hope you too will go wilde for these new aesthetic designs!

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