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The nineteenth-century Decadence movement “accelerat[ed] the corrosion” of conventional social mores, gender ideologies, and sexual hierarchies at the fin de siècle by using paradox, perversity, extravagance, and parody.[1] In morally conservative England, the movement emphasized unarticulated desires, revealing anxieties around transgressive sexuality, gender performativity, and transnational intimacies.

This exhibition brings together two canonical Decadent artists. Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Ricketts’ works are hallmarks of nineteenth-century Decadence through their use of strong, sharp lines, consistent subversion and inversion of eroticism, and grotesque figures to rebel against traditional Victorian moral values and classical aesthetics of beauty.  Several illustrations in this exhibit capture quintessentially “British” works, including poems, folktales, and aphorisms that one may not immediately associate with the Decadent movement. 

 Beardsley and Ricketts force these canonical works into Decadence, presenting a queer vision of England itself: alternately beautiful and grotesque, transnational and national, traditional and modern, exquisite and unexpected.

[1] Mahoney, Kristin. “Decadence.” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 46, no. 3-4, 2018, pp. 637, doi:10.1017/S106015031800044X.