Aestheticism in English Literature – Meaning and Characteristics


Aestheticism was an artistic and literary movement that emerged during the Victorian Era in the late 19th century. It rejected the existing ideas of what art ought to do and be and instead celebrated it for what it was. 

Characteristics of Aestheticism 


The term ‘Aestheticism’ in itself directly connotes beauty. The movement thus focused on finding beauty in all things and representing the same, especially with respect to art.

Art for Art’s Sake

As mentioned above, Aestheticism functioned on the motto ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ and commemorated art for what it is. It refused to attribute any didactic or moralistic purpose to art.  


Decadence again was an important feature of Aestheticism. Moving away from societal norms, the movement thrived on living life to the fullest, indulging in beauty and pleasure. 

Aestheticism Major Poets List and Their Important Works

Oscar Wilde 

Wilde perhaps was the most prominent of the Aestheticism movement. His magnum opus “The Picture of Dorian Gray” deeply explores the idea of beauty. 

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Swinburne too was a notable member. Famous works of his include his collection “Poems and Ballads” which covered themes of decadence and erotic elements. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 

Rossetti again was important to Aestheticism, in addition to being a pioneer of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was known for his collection of sonnets “The House of Life” and his renowned poem “The Blessed Damozel” which again depicts beauty. 


Aestheticism was thus an important movement during the Victorian era as it challenged and questioned societal conventions and the idea of morality, the ideals of which are celebrated and appreciated till date.