A few weeks ago I started to read 'The Aesthetic Adventure' by William Gaunt. Another Pelican book from the 1950s and it is excellently written, you could compare it to 'God's Funeral' by A.N. Wilson in that the chapters are well written, they are page turners. Each chapter is about one of the individuals in the aesthetic movement. That group of artists in the 19th Century who stated 'art for arts sake'. Although incredibly elitist and now a much degraded ideal these people just got on enjoyed their work, worked hard and did some marvelous things.
The impressionists came out of the aesthetics, 'impressionist' was just a nickname. To me they were really started a new trend, they started to look away from nature, from realist art and really started to say 'we can do better than nature' and with this radical thought they started to create pictures that were hated but have now become masterpieces. It is quite admirable that they could be so individualistic and yet still work as a group.
One of the problems, as seen from today is that when you practice 'art for arts sake' it becomes your experiment and open to the criticism of none but you. I think the aesthetics have shown that theirs was a valid approach and they just ignored the criticism and moved on. The book goes behind the pictures, looks at the characters, the social scene. Whistler and the original group of bohemians were the original hippies in the 1860s. When Whistler was living in Paris, he lived in a bare room and painted his furniture on the wall, once he was asked 'have you eaten?' he replied 'I have just eaten my wash stand!'