Aesthetic Movement’s ‘Cult of Beauty’ museum exhibit opens Feb. 18 in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860-1900,” coming to the Legion of Honor Feb. 18, 2012, is the first major exhibition to explore the unconventional creativity of the British Aesthetic Movement.

Legion of Honor Aesthetic Movement exhibitThe companion book “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860-1900,” edited by originating curator Dr. Lynn Federle Orr and Stephen Calloway, highlights the upcoming exhibit. The catalog is available at the museum or on

“Like a fine Victorian novel, the story of the Aesthetic Movement is one centered around serious social debates: shifting class structures, the confrontation between science and religion, art’s place in society, the impact of new market forces and a unique emphasis on the middle-class home,” says originating curator Dr. Lynn Federle Orr.

The exhibit traces the movement’s evolution from a small circle of progressive artists and poets, through the achievements of innovative painters and architects. More than 180 pieces will be on display that express the manifold ways avant-garde attitudes permeated Victorian material culture: the traditional high art of painting; fashionable trends in architecture and interior decoration; handmade and manufactured furnishings for the “artistic home”; art photography; and new modes of dress.

Aestheticism is now recognized as the wellspring for both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. The Cult of Beauty showcases the entirety of the Aesthetic Movement’s output, celebrating the startling beauty and variety of creations by such artists and designers as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler, Edward Burne-Jones, E. W. Godwin, William Morris and Christopher Dresser.

The exhibition debuted at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is currently on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Legion of Honor is the exclusive U.S. venue; the exhibit runs through June 17, 2012. For details, visit

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