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The age of beauty

The aesthetic movement of the 19th century revolutionised Victorian Britain. A new exhibition at the V&A reveals how beauty became a way of life

By Fitz Smith   April 2011

The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 V&A, from 2nd April to 17th July

Sometime in the 20th century, “beauty” and “art” stopped speaking to each other. Art ascended to lofty intellectual heights where concept trumped execution. Beauty sulked in the shadows, reminding everyone of earlier days when one could speak of an artwork’s beauty as an end in itself.

We might think that a bedizened skull made by Damien Hirst is beautiful, but discussion quickly turns to his harnessing of beauty to the service of a greater idea. We no longer concern ourselves with old-fashioned dictates governing the…

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