Lively Presentation on the Victorian Avant-Garde


Cult of Beauty event graphic.

Not sure you can make it up to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor's current exhibition before June 17th? Drop into Woodside Library for a special art docent PowerPoint lecture highlighting The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900. Jim Kohn presents his incisive remarks about the artists, their lives, the art objects on exhibit, life in England during these decades, etc. on Saturday, April 14 at 1 PM. The other libraries hosting this background talk about artists James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Morris are Millbrae Library on April 26 at 1:00 PM and San Carlos Library on May 14 at 7 PM.

At the Legion of Honor Museum

The exhibit at The Legion of Honor does have an entrance fee in addition to museum admission. One wanders through the galleries admiring paintings, furniture, teapots, wallpapers and other artifacts of beauty. The visitor should also remember that one small portion of the Victorian Avant-Garde exhibit is on the main floor with women’s gowns from this period, and even a dandy’s outfit purporting to be similar to the velvet outfit Oscar Wilde wore on his speaking tour of America.

Portrait of Jane Morris as  Proserpine by Wikimedia CommonsWant More?

Our libraries have fairly extensive listings of books on these topics, but Pamela Todd authored the best of the lot, in my opinion. Pre-Raphaelites at Home gives detailed, almost gossipy background of the complicated relationships of a certain group of artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his live-in arrangement with Janey Morris, wife of William Morris of wallpaper fame. Peppered with color plates, etchings, photographs and extensively researched, this one volume covers a wealth of information.

The Arts & Crafts Companion begins with almost 50 pages of biographical entries of “The Makers of the Movement.” However, each of the following chapters of Pamela Todd’s book cover the spectrum of artistic output from architecture and interiors to furniture, textiles, ceramics, metalwork and even gardens. It’s another gem.

The third Todd-authored book that I bring to your attention is William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home. Wonderful full page colored photographs demonstrate Morris’s belief that beautiful surroundings promote creativity and happiness.

Succumb to Pattern…

Yet another lovely book is Elizabeth Wilhide’s William Morris Décor and Design. The bonus is a “Glossary of Patterns” with 18 color pages of Morris designs.

Seduced by Color

Lastly, let me recommend Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Alicia Craig Faxon. The big 10 by 13 inch color plates of this artist’s work truly convey his style. The accompanying text aptly amplifies the melodrama of Rossetti’s life with his mistresses, his addictions, and especially his lush and seductive portraits of women.


Author Bio:

Karen Y. was especially drawn to Christopher Dresser’s silver teapots in the exhibit, although Whistler’s Nocturne and the Morris wallpaper were also favorites. But learning about the lives of these artists was fascinating, indeed.

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