The Cult of Beauty: Private View

Guests at the opening of The Cult of Beauty included Grayson Perry, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Bonnie Wright, Suzy Menkes, Lucinda Hawksley, Judith Watt and the V&A's Stephen Calloway and Sir Mark Jones

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Stephen Calloway, Lead Curator

We are absolutely delighted, the reaction seems to have been tremendous.  Everyone seems to love not just what is in the exhibition, but how it’s been displayed, so couldn’t be better.

Q/ And why did V&A decide to stage this exhibition at this point?  What is the significance of it?

This exhibition has been a long time in the planning, but it just seems to have caught the perfect moment beacuse you know in times of world crisis, economic depression; people actually love something that has a bit of fantasy.  Like all V&A shows, we’ve got wonderful decorative arts but in this show, really extraordinarily we’ve got some of the great estmasterpieces of painting of the era as well.  So there are great paintings by Lizetti Van Jones, Frederich Layton and that is really quite something, to bring them all together.

Grayson Perry, Artist

Q/ Does aestheticism have a significance for you, and does it have a relevance and an impact on you and your work?

I mean I was born on the same day as William Morris, and I have a studio in Walthamstow, but those two co-incidences don’t mean I particularly like William Morris wallpaper.  I do like the tea room here, I was glad when they moved the restaurant back into the original old tea room

Q/ How about Aubrey Beardsley, does he have any kind of......

Aubrey Beardsley was actually the first artist that I really liked when I was young.  He’s obviously a little bit of a perv, so I felt that in common with him and his graphic style was very important to me and his style still kind of influences me now.

Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen

Q/ What is the importance of the aesthetic movement to you?

I kind of very much grew up with the aesthetic movement being the sort of floppy end of arts and crafts, which I was quite attracted to, oddly, and I think that it’s that point where British taste is allowed to go a little bit decadent and a little bit too exotic for its own good.  I grew up in a solidly arts and crafts environment and for me it wasn’t that the aesthetic movement was the underbelly, but it was certainly getting there.  My mother definitely disapproved wholeheartedly of Godwin and Aubrey Beardsley and all that they symbolised.  There are very rare moments in British taste where we allow ourselves to sort of really truly let our hair down, and go beyond form and go beyond function and go beyond just how many Tennant drawings we are are willing to go on making

Bonnie Wright, actor

I think I’ve always liked the idea of the aesthetic movement was the moment when art was much freer, and people were going back to hand making things, and in terms of the clothes as well.

Q/ Do you have an interest in Dandyism and the way that men dressed at that point?

I think because it was so different and the clothes were such a big change, I think it was very significant in terms of what did actually change with the aesthetic movement. All the paintings you see; the voluptuous woman with the flowing dresses and it was much more realistic and I think that is what was much more interesting, rather than a really artificial way of looking at a woman or a man.

Suzie Menkes

This is such an extraordinary exhibition to me because it has so many paintings that are part of the fabric of our knowledge of culture and life, and there they are in front of you.  I’m going right down to a black and white drawing from Aubrey Beardsley, the whole Peacock room, the whole sense of Peacocks - I don’t know what they represented to those Victorians but certainly there seems to be a sexuality about them when you see them in the paintings.   It’s just lush, this exhibition.  It’s extraordinary.

Lucinda Hawksley, Biographer

I just love the aesthetic movement.  I’ve written a biography of Lizzie Siddal, a biography of Kate Perregini, and they were both really closely involved with the aesthetic movement.  In fact both of them have their portraits in this exhibition.  I just love the idea of the homogeneity of art, moving from the Pre-Raphealites arts and crafts into aestheticism and then just coming to this glorious stop at art for art’s sake, and everything being beautiful.

Mark Jones, Director, V&A

Q/ The aesthetic movement is known to have given birth to Dandyism, has Dandyism ever had a significance for you and were you ever an Oscar Wilde fan at all?

I think Dandyism actually goes back really to the dawn of time.  Men have always shown off, Bo Bramell is probably the greatest Dandy that we’ve ever known.  In a way, Oscar Wilde was following in a long tradition.  What I do think is that for the early 21st century, this interest in appearance and what appearance says about people in clothes, and the meaning of clothes, is something that has a great resonance in the early 21st century.

Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen

Q/ Who do you think are the great Dandy’s of the modern world?

I think Russell Brand is a really very good example, and he’s got the tongue that goes with it as well.  Stephen Calloway, our own sainted Stephen Calloway, obviously.  But David Beckham is another one that I think people wouldn’t neccessarily associate in the same breath as Bo Brummel or some of the great names, but actually he does have that sense of self-discipline and self esteem.

Judith Watt, Fashion Historian and Author

I teach at St. Martins and I’ve got students doing a project on this and I think this is going to be an incrediblly inspiring show for art students and fashion students, but fashion students in particular because they are going to be seeing work that hasn’t really been visible in terms of exhibitions for the last thirty years.   I think that those images of women by Rosetti, and by Lord Leigton and Albert Moore are going to be really empowering, and really exciting and I think this is a landmark exhibition, it is really important.  I can only say well done to the V&A for putting it on because it is its natural home and I think it is going to have a big impact. 



"This is such an extraordinary exhibition to me because it has so many paintings that are part of the fabric of our knowledge, culture and life. It's just lush"

–Suzy Menkes

"This is a landmark show and I can only say well done to the V&A for putting it on. It is going to have a big impact."

–Judith Watt


Book tickets to 'The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900' at the V&A, 2 April-17 July 2011