Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901—an era well-represented in our collection of handsome cufflinks. For the rest of the month, we'll be sharing some of these Victorian cufflinks offerings, many of them recently acquired. Click here to see all of the cufflinks at LEO Design.
The Aesthetic Movement flourished in the last three decades of the Nineteenth Century. It could be considered a precursor to the Arts & Crafts Movement—with its liberal use of stylized botanical and naturalistic themes, the strong influence of Japanese graphic design, and a fearlessness of presenting handsome physical adornment.
Aestheticism valued beauty, above all, and argued that the only requirement of art was to convey that beauty. "Statements" (like morality or justice or historicism) were not required of great art. Aesthetes promoted "Art for Art's sake" and "Beauty for Beauty's sake." Good taste, artistic talent, and (above all) aesthetics were the hallmarks of great works. If a painting (or sculpture or lamp or necklace) was beautiful, no further statement was necessary.
In the Twentieth Century, especially after the horrors of World War One, academic elites (and other art world professionals) began to promote the importance of "the message first" in art. The lesson or feelings or expressiveness of the artist began to dominate—regardless of the work's inherent beauty. The "statement" became the preeminent factor in evaluating art (at least amongst academics). Beauty alone was considered old-fashioned, out-dated, middle class. Contemporary artists were encouraged to push-boundaries, be inventive, and shock the viewer (if necessary). For the artist, being recognized (and compensated) has always been important; the successful artist has always been the one who could draw the most attention (from the right people). Modern artists found clever ways to generate publicity and money (see Marcel Duchamp).
Alas, this academic dismissal of artistic beauty has had real life consequences for artists living outside of the "accepted mode." John Singer Sargent, possibly America's greatest portraitist (and certainly my favorite), had to beg the Metropolitan Museum of Art to purchase (and protect) his masterpiece, "Madame X." They did purchase it in 1917. When I moved to Manhattan in 1990 (more than seven decades after that purchase), the Metropolitan was still hanging it in a museum stairwell! Fortunately, since then, art academicians have grudgingly accepted Sargent as the master he always was. Madame X now hangs prominently in pride-of-place at the Met. The picture is as beautiful now as it was when Sargent painted it in 1884.
This modern philosophy amongst art academics—message before beauty— lives-on to this day, though the democratizing realities of modern communication (that is, the internet) allows artists of all stripes to find their audience (and avoid the academic gatekeepers).
The Aesthetic Movement cufflinks, shown above, feature oval gold-content faces, engraved with stylized floral embellishments in an angular "pieced" graphic design (reminiscent of printed Japanese kimono fabrics). A broad silver bezel surrounds the face, adding a clean and weighty presence to an otherwise delicate center. Please click on the photo above to learn more about these handsome cufflinks.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248