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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours we live" (Jeffries), 9 May 2011
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A. D. Smith (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cult of Beauty (Hardcover)
To say that this book itself is beautiful would be very true, but would not do it justice: this is an important, provocative and inspiring book on what has been called `Aestheticism', a peculiarly British movement that gave us what one of the editors (Orr) considers "some of the most sophisticated and sensuously beautiful artworks of the Western tradition." If you read the book, you will find it hard to disagree with this statement. So, what happened in the middle of the 19th century to make these artists "celebrate the power of beauty to mesmerize, enthral, enchant, and uplift the beholder"? After all, in 1846 Ruskin wrote "I wholly deny that the impressions of beauty are in any way sensual; they are neither sensual nor intellectual, but moral." Implicit in this book is the view that what caused this transformation was the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood in 1848. Indeed, Rossetti and Burne-Jones feature extensively in the book. WB Yeats considered Rossetti "a subconscious influence, and perhaps the most powerful of all" in the movement also called `Art for Art's sake'. Rossetti's poem 'Soul's Beauty' might describe many of the paintings in this book: "This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise / Thy voice and hand shake still - long known to thee / By flying hair and fluttering hem..." But Rossetti does not go quite so far as Leighton, Moore and Whistler: for Rossetti, art is never separate from life.`Veronica Veronese' illustrated in the book is one of his most beautiful paintings (of Alexa Wilding) and can be considered as a formal study of different greens, but the text on the frame (not mentioned) provides an explanation of what the sitter is experiencing. As Colvin said, Rossetti's art is one of beauty combined with passion, rather than beauty for its own sake. The book does however give us many examples of beauty for its own sake, and we might even agree with Oscar Wilde (1890): "Beauty reveals everything because it expresses nothing", but perhaps not go so far as to agree with "Even a colour-sense is more important , in the development of the individual, than a sense of right and wrong". The cult of beauty had a big impact on society, alerting the middle-class to the joys of owning beautiful objects and totally transforming British design. The extraordinary claim was made at the time that Arthur Liberty (founder of Liberty's store) was as much the founder of an artistic school as ever were Velasquez, Rubens, or Turner. Several chapters of the book cover this aspect, sometimes with frustratingly little detail. Readers new to this field will find the 8-page Glossary of Names at the end very helpful. The book is strong on description but has less space for analysis - for that, the reader should consult Elizabeth Prettejohn's masterly Art for Art's Sake: Aestheticism in Victorian Painting (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art).
Overall, the book, printed in Singapore, is superbly produced, with double-page spreads that are stunning. There are some challenges for the reader, for example the source of most of the double-page spreads is left for the reader to discover from elsewhere in the book; some of the plates do not seem to be referred to in the text; Whistler's Peacock Room is mentioned but not illustrated; a strange slip on page 11 mentions Lizzie Siddal but the plate referred to is a photograph of Jane Morris (correctly identified). These are very minor blemishes indeed in what is a truly magnificent book. That epithet, and `majestic' are ones that repeatedly come to mind, and indeed Prettejohn concludes her second chapter with "the late paintings of Aestheticism are more majestic in scale, more commanding in visual address than those that had gone before", to which one might add, than almost any other paintings since.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Book, 6 Feb. 2012
This review is from: The Cult of Beauty (Hardcover)
An absolutely beautiful book. I first saw this book as an accompanyment to the exhibition at the V&A. The price of the book via Amazon is considerably less than the V&A price. The book is a must have for anyone interested in the pre-Raphaelites
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book but unsatisfactory catalogue, 3 May 2011
This review is from: The Cult of Beauty (Hardcover)
This is a lovely book and an excellent survey of the Aesthetic movement; the essays are readable and comprehensive, the illustrations beautiful (with a few rather dark exceptions). As a stand-alone book on the period it is fine. However as a catalogue and souvenir of the exhibition at the V and A it falls short as it does not distinguish between objects and paintings which are exhibited and those which are not. Many illustrations are included of things which were not on display and many, many more objects in the exhibits list at the end of the book are not illustrated. For example, we have Leighton's 'Flaming June' but not his 'Hesperides' or 'Countess Brownlow'. There is no way of cross-referencing between text and exhibits and the index is also unhelpful in this respect. All in all it makes for a confusing and frustrating read. I would prefer to see the essays followed by a brief catalogue entry for each exhibit, illustated with a small image of the subject, and a clear reference to the larger images in the text. The Royal Academy catalogues are often presented like this and better presentation would have improved this book a lot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking survey of the aesthetic movement., 24 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Cult of Beauty (Hardcover)
I visited the V&A exhibition for which this volume was published. The book itself is a delightful reminder of the event but does not differentiate between items that were actually exhibited and those that were not. It is, however, a very attractive overview of the Aesthetic movement and of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and would make an ideal gift for anyone interested in this movement.
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The Cult of Beauty
The Cult of Beauty by Calloway Stephen ed (Hardcover - 21 Mar. 2011)
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