Aestheticism was a literary movement which developed all over Europe by the middle of 19th century. It originated in France about 1835 with Théophile Gautier and numbered both writers and painters. It expended as a reaction against utilitarianism breaking with the conventions of the time. Consequently it gave vent to imagination and fantasy and repeated what the Romantics had already done, but taking their theories and attitudes to extremes.

The Aesthete rejected the view of the artist as a moral spokesman; he avoided the issues of the time and proposed a doctrine of "Art for Art’s sake". So Art was to be autonomous and distinct from morality.

In painting the Aesthetic theories led to Impressionism: Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Pissaro chose what they called "pure painting" whereby subject matter sentiment or moral judgement were subordinated to colour and the pattern of light and shade.

In literature Aestheticism slowly generated into Decadentism, which in France was known as Symbolism. The Decadents cut themselves off from the masses, disregarded the simple genuine ways of life and disdained mediocrity. They avoideed contact with reality and looked for an escape not in nature (like the Romantics), but within themselves and, with the help of drugs, in imaginary artificial worlds, where illusion replaced reality.