The idea of the picturesque as defined in William Gilpin’s essay, “On Picturesque Beauty” relates directly to the appeal of the Victorian era.
Gilpin describes the picturesque as rugged, rough and awe-inspiring. He contrasts picturesque with the idea of traditional beauty: smooth, clean and neat. He summarizes the connection as “from a smooth building we must turn it into a rough ruin”. The appeal of the picturesque is in the complexities and intricacies, the history and story behind a ravaged presented.
To illustrate Gilpin’s concept of the picturesque is this painting, Snowdonia by Sidney Richard Percy (1821-1886), an embodiment of the disheveled nature that Gilpin sees as more interesting to capture artistically than the simply aesthetically pleasing.
Gilpin’s concept of the picturesque as it relates to literature and art can be seen as the artistic outlet for the realities of the Victorian era. Gilpin’s fascination with the picturesque is rather than being simply aesthetically pleasing, the picturesque generates interest because it’s complicated.
Likewise, the appeal of Victorian England is in the corruption, scandal, and social contradictions between appearance and reality.
English population nearly tripled in this era. The country was one of the first to be ushered from the Agricultural era into the Industrial Revolution. Traditional gender roles were rocked by the uprising of prostitution and changes in divorce legislature. Whigs and Tories became Liberals and Conservatives.
All of this change made the Victorian era rich with cultural and political complexities.
At first glance, the Victorians embodied progress, a step into a future generation. Beneath that tidy surface, however, brewed a multitude of controversial cultural facets, those of which we will explore in this blog.