Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits
17 February – 7 June 2015
Revealing how artists' support of the Aesthetic movement heralded reforms in fashion in the 19th century.
From the 1850s artists such as G F Watts, Frederic Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones and Lawrence Alma-Tadema pioneered the Aesthetic Dress movement: a rejection of mainstream Victorian fashion – such as tiny corseted waists and cumbersome bustles – in favour of flowing, draped styles that enhanced the natural beauty of the female form.
This exhibition features portraits by these key pioneers, who chose to depict their figures in Aesthetic style. It spans from the movement's origins in the mid-19th century through to the opening of the Artistic and Historic Costume Studio at Liberty & Co on Regent Street – a place where advocates could buy their own Aesthetic outfits.
Accompanying the portraits will be original photography, journals and items of clothing that reveal the movement's wide-reaching influence upon perceptions of beauty, as well as health. G F Watts was also a proponent of Rational Dress, a sister movement that championed a reform of men’s and women’s clothing with the aim of improving well-being.
Not everyone viewed the Aesthetic Dress movement as an advance in fashion and beauty. The exhibition features a series of satirical cartoons that mocked the trend.