Liberating Fashion

Closes 7 June

This season, Watts Gallery will bring together masterpieces by some of the greatest artists of the Victorian age to explore the Aesthetic Dress Movement – a movement pioneered by artists that rejected Victorian mainstream fashion with its tiny corseted waists and cumbersome bustles, favouring instead flowing, draped styles that enhanced the natural beauty of the female form.

Featuring exquisite portraits by, amongst others, G F Watts, Frederic Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, Lawrence Alma-Tadema and James Tissot, Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits will be the first exhibition to tell the story of the Aesthetic Dress Movement from its origins in the 1850s through to the opening of the Artistic and Historic Costume Studio at Liberty & Co on Regent Street from where Aesthetes – followers of this fashion – could buy their own Aesthetic Dress.

Accompanying the portraits will be original photography, journals and works on paper that will show how Aesthetic dress had a wide-reaching influence upon perceptions of beauty and also, importantly, health. G F Watts himself was an important figure in the campaign for Rational Dress, a sister movement that championed a reform of men's and women's dress to improve health whilst upholding beauty.

But, as this exhibition will show, not everyone viewed the Aesthetic Dress Movement as an advance in fashion and beauty. Liberating Fashion will also explore how the Movement was satirised and will present hilarious contemporary cartoons affectionately mocking the trend.