Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beauty Reveals Everything

Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858-1859, oil on canvas,
from The Cult of Beauty at The Legion of Honor.

This last weekend went by so fast. As they always seem to do. Saturday was filled with catching up with myself and home; doing laundry, sorting and cleaning the veggies from our CSA box (with this much mud they have to be organic!) and planning menus for the coming week, putting away clothes and shoes that I'd worn during the week, filing papers and replying to languishing emails. Oh, you know, the list goes on and on. These things seem important at the time, but they're mostly just life maintenance and not so much life advancement. As my friend Debra says, don't always focus on the little "a'' agenda (your to-do list). You also need to know and do the things for your BIG "A" Agenda (your life values).

Sunday evening, before I got a case of the end-of-the-weekend blues,  I asked myself what I had accomplished for my big "A" Agenda this weekend. My answer: an appreciation of beauty. In spite of the rain and chores, the theme last weekend was beauty.

Saturday night Mr. Matt and I saw Ute Lemper at the Herbst Theater, performing "Paris Days and Berlin Nights" with the Vogler Quartet.  She was beautifully theatrical and sexy to watch wearing an elegant silvery pleated halter gown, with a sparkly camellia (as above) pinned at the plunging neckline.  And flawlessly striking to listen to as she performed chansons of Kurt Weill, Astor Piazolla, Edith Piaff and Jacques Brel, among others. (Click on the Ute Lemper link to hear her passionate and dramatic version of "Mack the Knife"). The show was transportive, as beauty should be.

Edward Burne-Jones, Laus Veneris (In Praise of Venus), 1873-1878,
oil with gold paint on canvas.

Sunday afternoon, Matt and I met our friends Hilary and John at the Legion of Honor for The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860-1900. In the museum we were surrounded by the lusciously-colored paintings of loosely-gowned voluptuous women, richly patterned wall designs, furniture that was beginning to look modern and ornate metal work.

These passionate followers of the Aesthetic Movement -- as a reaction to the stuffy Victorians -- ate, slept, lived in, dressed in, painted, photographed, wrote and talked about nothing else but beauty. In 1835, Theophile Gautier published a book using the expression L'art pour l'art for the first time. It was a shocking proposal that perhaps the purpose of art could be just an expression of beauty and not a moral or religious tale. The Aesthetes devoted themselves to art for art's sake with passion.

Oscar Wilde was the movement's PR guy lecturing in the US proclaiming: "Beauty has as many meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols. Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it shows itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world."

We ended our museum visit having an impromptu picnic overlooking the Bay with crystal flutes of prosecco and orange juice (oranges that I plucked from the tree and squeezed) and nibbles.

The Aesthetes had a credo: Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (Life is brief, art endures). My Sunday credo: Vita Brevis, Bibere Champagne (Life is short, drink champagne). There's beauty in that.


  1. I love the Oscar Wilde quote. Thank you for this post -- more motivation to get myself out of the house and to this show.

  2. An absolutely gorgeous post, visually stunning and written with grace and with heart. Thank you!