Creating ‘The Cult of Beauty’ (2011)

From 2 April – 17 July 2011, the V&A’s spring exhibition The Cult of Beauty brought together many of the greatest Aesthetic paintings and finest decorative art of this extraordinary movement. Paintings by Aesthetic artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler were displayed alongside the work of leading designers including William Morris and E. W. Godwin. Assistant Curator, Esmé Whittaker, documented the evolution of the exhibition and offered insights into the objects on display.

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Beauty and Beyond

It is hard to believe that The Cult of Beauty has now been open to the public for two months. I still enjoy going down to the galleries and hearing the reactions as visitors see the exhibition for the first time, as they take their first glimpse into Rossetti’s bedroom, step into the projected Peacock Room or come almost face to face with Eros. I thought I would use this, my final blog post, to suggest some other Aesthetic buildings and events you might like to add to your itinerary.

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Video: An Introduction to Aestheticism

[video: width:600 height:338] video introduces the key characters of the Aesthetic Movement and discusses how the movement influenced decoration, dress and what we nowterm 'lifestyle'. Wander through the interiors of the V&A with The Cult of Beauty exhibition's curator Stephen Calloway and get a glimpse of the decoration at Leighton House in Holland Park with their senior curator Daniel Robbins. It isa great introduction before visiting the exhibition inperson.

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I ‘would love to live in the exhibition’

On the 7th March we began to install The Cult of Beauty exhibition. Over the last three weeks, with two teams of technicians and highly efficient exhibition co-ordinators, we installed over 250 objects in the gallery space. Paintings were hung on the blue, green and dark grey walls, objects were placed in cases and sculptures were carefully positioned on their plinths. I waited excitedly for the latest packing case to be opened and another beautiful object to emerge.

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The Aesthetic Look

With just over a month to go before the exhibition opens its doors to the public, the press interest is growing. Last weekend the ‘How To Spend It’ feature in the Financial Times was inspired by The Cult of Beauty. Influenced by the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the stylist Damian Foxe transformed the actress Bonnie Wright into a modern day Fanny Cornforth or Alexa Wilding (Rossetti’s models and muses) Dressed in flowing olive-green and coral coloured gowns, Bonnie Wright is shown surrounded by peacock feathers and opulent floral arrangements. If you would like to see the photographs and a …

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Liberty’s department store provides me with a haven in busy central London. I could spend hours in their haberdashery department admiring their distinctive printed fabrics or looking at the interiors of their ‘Tudor’ building . I was, therefore, delighted when I found out that The Cult of Beauty exhibition, which is sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, will have further support from Liberty. A couple of weeks ago, as part of a press tour, I visited the store and met Liberty’s archivist who showed us some sample books containing Aesthetic fabrics . Liberty played a vital role in popularising …

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Model Beauty

Even for those of us who are used to reading architectural drawings there is nothing quite like a model for bringing a design to life. Our designers, Opera, produced this model to show us how the space would be divided and the different colour schemes that would be used for each section. Using miniature images of each of the exhibition objects we could also get a sense of how the hang and groupings would work long before the internal partitions were due to be constructed. I am always interested to see how each of the major V&A exhibitions uses this …

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The Exhibition Beautiful

Aesthetes were very aware of the importance of colour and pattern to the creation of what they called ‘The House Beautiful’. They preferred subtle tertiary hues, such as olive green and terracotta, and used motifs such as the peacock, lily and sunflower throughout their designs. The Cult of Beauty exhibition designers were therefore faced with the challenge of creating a suitable environment in which the Aesthetic artworks could be displayed, a space which would complement but not overwhelm the objects. Right from their early concept, the designers at the Dutch firm Opera were aware of what was needed. Shades of …

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Art Needlework

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 …

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Aesthetic Peacocks

The idea for a major exhibition about the Aesthetic Movement was first discussed almost five years ago so there is certainly lots to fill you in on. Through this blog I want to give you a sense, not just of our current work as we approach the final stages of exhibition planning and object installation, but also how the exhibition has evolved so far. My first few posts will be about how the objects for the exhibition were initially selected and the work of the designers who have helped to make the exhibition a reality. Working on this project has …

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