Although the V&A has a strong collection of Aesthetic works of art this will be complemented by some important loans from other museums, archives and private collections. The aim of the exhibition is to suggest the complete Aesthetic ensemble, the combination of decorative art and paintings that characterised the Aesthetic interior. We are borrowing paintings by artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James McNeill Whistler from major museums as well as the striking portraits by artists such as G. F. Watts and Edward Poynter that have been passed down through generations of the same family.
To fully appreciate the objects that we might borrow we needed to see them first hand. One of my favourite visits was to the Royal School of Needlework housed in the spectacular setting of Hampton Court. The Royal School of Art Needlework was founded in 1872 to revive embroidery as an art form and provide employment for ‘gentlewomen’. The leading Aesthetic artists, such as Walter Crane, were commissioned to produce designs and many of the original drawings are kept within the school’s archives. With so many beautiful examples of embroidery design, it was difficult to choose which we wanted to display within the exhibition. In the end we decided on two designs which sum up the range of Walter Crane’s abilities, his design for a waistcoat embroidered with charming robins and a large scale embroidered hanging made for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.
Walter Crane, Salve, 1876. Watercolour and gouache. From the Collection of the Royal School of Needlework