The Important Artists and Works of Art for Art's Sake
A woman delicately plays a harp while two angels circle pensively above her head. The rich velvet of the woman's green dress flows into the luxurious vegetation that surrounds her, her striking red hair echoed by the garland of flowers and the angels' auburn locks. William Michael Rossetti, the brother of the artist, translated this work's as "The Garlanded Lady" or "Lady of the Wreath," with Alexa Wilding, the model depicted in the center of the work, portrayed as the ideal of love and beauty.
This is a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a British artist associated with both Aestheticism and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and known for his tempestuous and often exploitative romantic relationships with female models and artists. This work's title, along with the idealized treatment of subject matter, may be intended to evoke the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (c. 1503-19), then often known as La Giaconda ("the happy one" or "the jocund one"), and revered by critics associated with Art for Art's Sake such as Theophile Gautier and Walter Pater. In effect, Rossetti may have meant his idealized beauty to become an icon for the Aesthetic movement just as the Mona Lisa had become an icon of Renaissance art.
In its guide to the work, the Guildhall Art Gallery notes that the painting ushered in "a new aesthetic of painting," as every element contributed to the elevation of beauty. William Michael Rossetti wrote that his brother's intent was to "to indicate, more or less, youth, beauty, and the faculty for art worthy of a celestial audience, all shadowed by mortal doom." In this respect, the painting summed up the "Cult of Beauty" for which the Pre-Raphaelites stood, and represents an important contribution to the principles of Art for Art's Sake.
This iconic painting depicts a firework display at Cremorne Gardens in London. A few shadowy figures can be discerned in the foreground, depicting the shore of the Thames River, but most of the canvas is given over to the black night sky, lit up by the rocket's falling gold sparks and the explosive smoke from the firework battery on the horizon. With its dreamy wash of color and abstracted figures, this painting represented the emergence of a new approach within painting which emphasized the artist's freedom to represent a mood or emotion at the expense of representational accuracy.
This painting, the last in Whistler's series of so-called "nocturnes," became important talismans of the idea of Art for Art's Sake, with the artist stating that "[a]rt should be independent of all clap-trap - should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear." Color and mood were crucial to Whistler's work, with his paintings often bordering on abstraction, while his titles often used musical terms such as "nocturne" and "harmony" to insist on painting's relationship to other artforms, particularly music, which had a 'pure' aesthetic quality not connected to themes or symbolism.
No work is a better example of Whistler's artistic stance. Perhaps for that reason, it became the subject of legal dispute after Whistler sued the noted critic John Ruskin for attacking the painting as worthless and poorly executed. While Whistler won the case, he received only a single farthing in settlement, and his legal fees contributed to his subsequent bankruptcy. Despite this Pyrrhic victory, Whistler's defense played a key role in establishing the principles of art as an entirely liberated pursuit disconnected from all conventions of society, politics, or morality, which would be important to the development of modernism. Art critic James Jones notes that Whistler described a painting as "an arrangement of light, form and colour," an emphasis which predicts, for example, the movement of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-twentieth century.
The concept of Art for Art's Sake, via the Aesthetic movement, had a transformative effect on interior design and architecture. As art critic Fiona MacCarthy writes, "[o]ne of the main tenets of aestheticism was that art was not confined to painting and sculpture and the false values of the art market. Potential for art is everywhere around us, in our homes and public buildings, in the detail of the way we choose to live our lives."
This photograph depicts the famous Peacock Room, named for the turquoise, gold, and blue murals featuring a peacock motif and designed by James Abbott McNeill Whistler for the home of the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. Leyland's centerpiece for his dining room was Whistler's painting The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (1863-65), while the interior design embodied Whistler's enthusiasm for Japonism, a style based on western perceptions of Japanese art and design. Whistler described his working process in the room as spontaneous and intuitive: "I just painted on. I went on - without design or sketch - it grew as I painted. And toward the end I reached [...] a point of perfection." He said the finished interior was a "harmony in blue and gold," in effect transforming the space into an artwork and elevating design to a fine art that existed for its own sake.
Whistler's design was enormously influential, informing the development of both the Anglo-Japanese style and the Aesthetic movement, which included all realms of design within its dictum. In a wider sense, the decoration of this room encapsulates the idea so important to exponents of Art for Art's Sake that, by surrounding themselves with beautiful things - not just artworks but walls, tables, chairs, and so on - the artist or art lover could become beautiful themselves.