Late nineteenth century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ emphasising the visual and sensual qualities of art and design over practical, moral or narrative considerations

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  • James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander' 1872-4

    James Abbott McNeill Whistler
    Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander 1872-4
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1902 x 978 mm frame: 2215 x 1300 x 100 mm
    Bequeathed by W.C. Alexander 1932

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  • Albert Moore, 'A Garden' 1869

    Albert Moore
    A Garden 1869
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1746 x 879 mm frame: 1980 x 1110 x 95 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1980

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  • Frederic, Lord Leighton, 'Lieder ohne Worte' exhibited 1861

    Frederic, Lord Leighton
    Lieder ohne Worte exhibited 1861
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1016 x 629 mm frame: 1300 x 920 x 70 mm
    Purchased 1980

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The aesthetic movement flourished in Britain in the 1870s and 1880s and was important equally in fine and applied arts.

In painting it is exemplified by J.M. Whistler, Albert Moore and certain works by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Japanese art and culture was an important influence, especially on Whistler and aesthetic design.

In applied arts it can be seen as part of the revolution in design initiated by William Morris, with the foundation of Morris & Co in 1862. From 1875 the ideals of aestheticism were commercialised by the Liberty store in London, which later also popularised art nouveau.

Critic Walter Hamilton was the first writer to identify the movement, publishing The Aesthetic Movement in England in 1882. As well as writing about key figures associated with the movement, he also provides descriptions of contemporary responses to it.