The Grosvenor Gallery on Bond Street, which Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife Blanche opened in 1877, proved crucial to the Aesthetic Movement because it provided a home for those artists whose approaches the more classical and conservative Royal Academy did not welcome. As Christopher Woods explains, both husband and wife
were well-born and well-connected, and both were amateur artists. Blanche was born a Rothschild, and it was her money which made the whole enterprise possible. The gallery was situated in a grandiose Italianate building in Bond Street, richly decorated and furnished. In deliberate contrast to the Royal Academy method, the pictures were widely spaced apart, with groups of one artist's work placed together. This enabled the spectator to form an overall impression of an artist's style, and was widely welcomed by the artists themselves. The Grosvenor was also the first gallery to be lit by electric light.
The opening was a highly fashionable event, attended by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and before long the Grosvenor was well established as a serious rival to the Academy. Inevitably, many classical painters were drawn towards the Grosvenor, and a check of the lists of exhibits reveals a large number of classical titles. But the aesthetic movement was by its very nature eclectic, and therefore classical themes represent only one among many possible sources of inspiration. The tendency at the Grosvenor was to paint decorative, vaguely allegorical figure subjects, usually in classical robes, and usually with a suitable classical title of a nymph or goddess. [155-56]
As important as the Grosvenor proved to the Aesthetic Movement, it did not cause the bitter rivalry between painters of the establishment and outsiders that took place in France, and it did not do so for several reasons, the first of which is that Victorian England had comparatively little in the way of government patronage but there were enough wealthy patrons to go round. Probably for this reason, painters of all schools and aesthetic tendencies socialized together. In addition, when Frederick Lord Leighton served as President of the Royal Academy, he devoted a great deal of energy to making sure that paintings by outsiders received fair treatment and were prominently displayed at the annual exhibition, and he also successfully lobbied to gain election to the RA for major figures like Burne-Jones and Albert Moore whose work differed sharply from that of the academicians. Leighton, one of the bona fide stars of Victorian painting and sculpture, certainly proved himself to be an exemplary leader of the Victorian art world.
Wood, Christopher. Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters, 1860-1914. London: Constable, 1983.
Last modified 22 March 2007