The Aesthetic Movement: Art for Art’s Sake

The Aesthetic Movement was a decorative style of interior design that was popular from about 1851 – 1899. It developed as a reaction against the mass production of goods in the Victorian period. Common design elements of the Aesthetic Movement include cranes, lilies, sunflowers, stroks and bamboo. This decorating style was perpetuated by all fashionable interior designers though the 1880’s. Proponents of this style felt that “the design and manufacture of furniture, ceramics, metalwork, and textiles should rise for the sake of beauty in everyday life.”


Aesthetic Movement Influences

Following The Great Exposition of 1851, young artist began to denounce Victorian designs as vulgar and ostentatious. “Followers of the Aesthetic Movement, reacted against industrialism and advocated for objects that emphasized beauty over social or political themes. They blurred the line between craft, fine art, and decorative arts to bring beauty into everyday life, and particularly to the home, which they viewed as a canvas for artistic expression and a sanctuary from the blandness of industrial life.⁠” By the mid-1880’s all manner of goods to include ceramics and table services we available in the “Aesthetic Taste”. Heavy influence from the Japanese culture was further encouraged by the newly burgeoning relationship that Japan was building with Western cultures, having just opened their ports to trade in the 1850’s. Westerners were fascinated by this newly discovered culture and its arts, uncorrupted by the modernization of the world.


Aethetic Movement Design Elements & Hallmarks

“The flat planes, stylized designs, and nature-inspired motifs of the Anglo–Japanese style included storks and owls carved in the backs of chairs, beetles and spiders crawling up the handles of silverware, dragonflies lighting on silver teapots by Tiffany and Gorham, and cherry blossoms in stained glass.” This style worked especially well in homes designed in the Modern Gothic: Stick Style (Eastlake), Vernacular Medievalism, Queen Anne, Shingle Style, Late Victorian Tudor and Jacobean. “The Aesthetic Movement morphed into Arts & Crafts in England and Art Nouveau on the Continent. In America the craze faded away by 1890, and that last decade of the 19th century saw a nostalgic turn back toward the Rococo, cabbage roses, and mauve.”

  • STYLIZED, ABSTRACTED ornament was preferred in carving, on walls, and for textiles—flat ornament for flat surfaces. The shaded, realistic depictions of fauna and flora as seen in the mid-Victorian period were out of fashion.
  • MOTIFS in the Anglo- Japanese style were popular ca. 1875–1885: cranes, swallows, bamboo, and cherry blossoms. Motifs and palettes were based, too, on medieval and Gothic designs. An alternate name for Aesthetic and Eastlake is Reformed or Modern Gothic.
  • WALL TREATMENTS embraced the tripartite division of dado, fill, and frieze. The fill was kept simple—even done in one color in the Japanese fashion—to set off framed prints hung from the picture rail. Wall and ceiling papers often had oriental motifs.
  • TERTIARY COLORS—olive and sage, ochre, terra cotta and russet, peacock blue—were favored, a palette influenced by William Morris’s revival of medieval formulas, and by the subdued but clear tones of Japanese woodblock prints.
  • EXOTIC TASTES An Exotic Revival was a sub-theme peaking around 1880 with the American fascination for Arabesque ornament. Moorish tiles, Persian furniture, and Turkish smoking rooms were all the rage.

Aesthetic Movement Furniture Examples




Aesthetic Movement in Print



Wallpapers of the Aesthetic Movement



Aesthetic Movement Majolica