Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858–1859, oil on canvas. Private collection. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
For those lucky enough to live in San Francisco, Sunday is the last day to see The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900 at the Legion of Honor. The exhibition looks at the British Aesthetic Movement, which included writers such as Oscar Wilde and artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, and its impact on fashion and the middle-class home. These aesthetes prized a natural kind of beauty: loose hair and loose dresses, free from the corset. They also used natural dyes and emphasized arts and crafts, decorating gowns with fine needlework. Their fashions, regarded as hideous and even indecent at the time, would eventually seep into high fashion in the early 1900s, as empire-waisted tea gowns became popular and French couturier Paul Poiret’s opulent Oriental-inspired dresses and pantaloons abolished the corset pretty much for good.