The Cult of Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder

The sunflower and peacock were popular motifs representing the artistic shift from conventional Victorian themes to the "pursuit of beauty" during the British Aesthetic Movement.  While a vase of vibrant sunflowers and an exotic peacock tail are bold, colorful displays, closer observation reveals exquisite details that are the true nature of beauty.  This form of contemplation is seen in the enlarged spiral pattern of the florets on a decorative andiron shaped like a sunflower, and the iridescent colors of peacock feathers that create a rich contrast to the shiny black hair of the woman in “Pavonia,” a portrait by Frederic Leighton. 
The Cult of Beauty:  The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860-1900 exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco includes artwork, furniture, fashion, and household goods from the Aesthetic Movement.  During this period, Bohemian artists such as James McNeill Whistler and Edward Burne-Jones sought to reinterpret the prevailing attitude toward art as defined by the Victorian upper-class as a virtuous “narrative.”  
Rather than convey a message about morality, the artists celebrated simple vignettes with rich details that captured a mood such as a tender moment between mother and child or a foggy river at twilight.  Different ideas about beauty were introduced by artists who preferred to feature models known as “stunners” because of their gorgeous red hair.  Ebonized wood was used for furniture and accent pieces to add a touch of foreign intrigue to the design.  
"democratize art"

The shift in artistic perception was motivated by the socio-economic forces brought on by the Industrial Revolution.  Lifestyles were dramatically altered when people moved from the farm to the city to work in factories.  This migration lead to an expansion of the middle class and the availability of manufactured goods for their homes.  Artists sought to “democratize art” by incorporating artistic details into common household items and architectural elements.  Teapots were designed with modern silhouettes and were displayed like works of art, and a basic fireplace opening was transformed into an ornamental frame that enhanced the home's decor.  

thinking about beauty...
Oscar Wilde referred to this interior design trend as “The House Beautiful.”  As a spokesman for the Avant-Garde, Mr. Wilde helped define the new order of beauty.  Not just anybody could see the light fall across a woman’s face like a veil, and few could appreciate the harmonious arrangements and color palettes of his generation of artists.  Surely it was possible to train the eye of the beholder to see beauty.

beauty's welcome mat

Viewing the art of the Victorian Avant-Garde induces a delightful reverie as you contemplate the value of beauty.  Sunflowers and peacocks symbolized beauty’s welcome mat during the evolution of the  middle class lifestyle.  The Legion of Honor is the perfect place to immerse yourself in beauty.  Located “high on the headlands above the Golden Gate,” the architecture of the palace is French neo-classical and is surrounded by the natural beauty of Lincoln Park.  The Cult of Beauty exhibition in San Francisco ends on 6/17/12 and is the only venue in the United States.  

Visit to LOH in May of 2012.