‘Aestheticism’ was a movement in the arts, literature and decorative arts that emphasised
the ideal of beauty in art and society as an end in itself. The Aesthetes believed
in beauty in art for its own sake and dismissed the idea that art should have a moral
or utilitarian purpose.
The aesthetic movement had its origins in the early 1870s and survived until about
the turn of the century. In the United Kingdom it had its greatest impact in the
visual arts and the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a leading figure
in the movement. In literature, the writer and playwright Oscar Wilde is the best
known aesthete, and it was his trial in 1895 (for allegedly indulging in homosexual
acts) that is regarded as the end-point of the movement.
Aestheticism was an elitist movement with little impact beyond the arts and literature
and thus had only limited impact on the general population. Even so, aesthete symbols
and themes appear on ceramics produced by leading manufacturers. Ceramics demonstrating
aesthetic style tend to be decorated with Japanese-inspired motifs including sunflowers,
chrysanthemums, magnolia, hawthorn blossom and the peacock. Blue and white were
the favoured colours.
Blue and white teaware with hand-painted Prunus blossom characteristic of the aesthetic
George Jones & Sons Ltd, 1880s
Aesthetic themes on a Ridgways plate - magnolia blossom, peacock, bamboo, and sunflowers
Teaware embossed and hand painted with ‘bamboo’ decoration drawn from Japanese originals