Aesthetic Woman: The ‘Fearful Consequence’ of ‘Living Up’ to One’s Antiques

  • Anne Anderson
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Residing in the House Beautiful or Palace of Art,1 an artistic utopia enriched with Old Blue china and antique furniture, the female aesthete existed among a plethora of things and was often herself recast as an objet d’art. The ideal of aesthetic womanhood grew out of the Pre-Raphaelite model of femininity that had been invented by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones in the 1860s. In the following decades this ideal became a cultural icon to which many middle- and upper-class women with means aspired, as well as a satirical stereotype lampooned in literary texts and popular media. For those within her elite Aesthetic coterie, the female aesthete embodied the vision of the painter-architect-designer who had transformed her into a thing of beauty. She was required to harmonize with her surroundings, altering her appearance to complement her artistic wallpapers, carpets, and curtains. Her figure and facial features were judged according to the parameters established by the Pre-Raphaelite Cult of Beauty which had immortalized Rossetti’s muse Jane Morris as a ‘stunner’ and portrayed women as tall, willowy, and draped in unconventional garb. This type of beauty initiated a fashion for viper-like tresses, long necks, angular jaws, bee-stung lips, and dolorous downcast eyes. As Henry James noted it became impossible to discern whether this model of femininity had originated in art or real life.


Consumer Culture September 1879 Cultural Icon Commodity Fetishism Saturday Review 
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© Anne Anderson 2012

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  • Anne Anderson

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