Aestheticism is an artistic movement born in England as a development of Pre-Raphaelism, a pictorial current founded by the painter Rossetti, who proposed a simple and natural art. The underlying principle of Aestheticism is that of art for art, which enhances the value of artistic beauty by translating into the rejection of Realism. Beauty is considered a superior experience, there is the affirmation of a new role of the artist, considered as an exceptional individual.
The artist must live his life as a work of art with a continuous search for beauty. The esthete hates common life, material interest and profit but, on the contrary, has an attraction for worldliness, frivolous life, useless and precious objects. In his inimitable life, the esthete continually searches for refined pleasures. In him there is the urge to enjoy elusive youth, the exaltation of pleasure is linked to corruption and decay.
Great esthete was the French Joris-Karl Huysmans who was a naturalist in the school of Zola. Author of Backward, with his novel he provided a guide to new aesthetic trends: the cult of art for art, the rejection of common morality, contempt for the modern age and vulgarity, a refined lifestyle, the rejection of what is simple and natural. The novel’s protagonist is the prototype of the esthete, an intellectual in full spiritual crisis. In Backward, new narrative techniques appear: attention to a single character, the reduction of space to a symbolic place, the time of the non-linear story, the point of view focused within the character.
In Queen Victoria’s Britain, the novelist Walter Pater was the leading exponent of aestheticism. He extolled the value of artistic beauty, considering it not comparable to the dogmas of common morality. His masterpiece was the philosophical novel Mario the Epicurean. Among the English intellectuals we must remember Oscar Wilde, narrator, poet and playwright, persecuted for his homosexuality. His most famous work was the portrait of Dorian Gray, a story that ends with the defeat of narcissism. Dorian is an esthete who devotes his life in search of a beautiful superior.
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