Aubrey Beardsley images and biography
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Aubrey Beardsley

See also: Art Nouveau; Symbolism


"...Burne-Jones in turn attracted the veneration of Aubrey Beardsley, probably the most remarkable English illustrator of the industrial age. He too was a precocious talent: at the age of fifteen he had illustrated his favourite books (Madame Bovary, Manon Lescaut). By the time of his death at the age of twenty-six (he died of tuberculosis, in Menton, where he had gone in search of a favourable climate), he had made a lasting impact on the art of illustration. It was a field in which a number of outstanding artists were then working, including Walter Crane, co-founder with William Morris of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

"It was through Burne-Jones that, in 1891, Beardsley, then aged eighteen, met Oscar Wilde. Wilde was writing his Salome in French (Arthur Douglas subsequently translated it into English), and asked Beardsley to illustrate it.

"Beardsley's drawings are admirably suited to the technical possibilities of industrial reproduction. Ambitious and supremely gifted, the young artist developed a perverse and playfully theatrical style partly inspired by Greek vase painting. The venomous elegance of his drawings has an ornamental rhythm akin to the abstract decorations of Islamic palaces. For Salome, Beardsley ironically appropriated the decadent theme of the evil, emasculating woman. His characters are often grotesque - notably in drawings he later described as "naughty", representing, for example, grimacing "Gobbi" afflicted with monumentally tumescent phalluses. As a homosexual, Beardsley did not experience the anguish awoken in artists like Munch by the problematic state of relations between the sexes. Wilde described Beardsley's muse as having "moods of terrible laughter"."

- From Michael Gibson, "Symbolism"

"...The concern of Beardsley was not to create an illusion of reality, but, like the Eastern artist, to make a beautiful design or pattern within a given space.

"In character he was friendly and lovable, though witty and daring. He made many friends, though few enemies. There was but little rancour or bitterness in his make-up, though there was a streak of waywardness and perversity which he probably inherited from his mother. A medical friend has also pointed out that he may have inherited his uncanny ability to diagnose character from his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather who were both physicians and surgeons.

"He took his art with all the seriousness which is its due, and he often speaks with affection of a drawing that has just left his hands, or is on the point of completion. They were, indeed, his children.

"His eroticism is manifest, and must be accepted as simply as the fact that he had auburn hair and long hands. Much of it was due to his tuberculosis, with which it is often associated, and also to frustration due to that illness and the retired life he had to lead after 1895, and indeed earlier. For him it was from drawing-table, to sofa, to bed. Even a carriage to an evening concert was taken in great trepidation. How many of his drawings are of interiors, or conceived in formal gardens. How few of them are set in the country, and this country is more derived from Claude than from the English landscape. And yet it is pathetic to read in his letters that he is having "a spell of warm weather, troubled only by the wasps, that bring however with them a sort of memory of orchards", and again that "jolly winds are driving white clouds over the bluest sky".

"Having mastered his medium he pushed it to the farthest degree, in fact as far as it had ever been taken or is likely to be. In this he resembles Meryon in his Eauxfortes sur Paris, or Rembrandt in his landscapes, or, Rowlandson's tinted drawings. He is as much a master of pen and ink as Goya was of aquatint, or Handel was of the combination of voice and trumpet.

"To this consummate skill was added an imagination hitherto unknown and undreamt of in the staid, prosperous and smug later nineteenth century. Demon ridden it may be, but we have to go back to Hieronymus Bosch to find anything comparable. And he has a delicacy and refinement unknown to the Flemish painter. Over a blank white paper come a smirking, creeping, posturing devil horde of things, grotesque, weird, macabre, sinister, misgiving and alarming, before which the creatures in Comus and The End of Elphintown retreat abashed. And then with a seeming flick of his faery hand, we see only a harmless fop of George I, a charming little lady at her toilet, or a poor dead doll.

"If Art is to make us wonder and ponder, to revere and appreciate, if it is not merely to serve us with the surface prettiness of things, then surely the art of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley can be ranged beside that of the Great Ones."

- From R. A. Walker, "The Best of Beardsley"

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Aubrey Beardsley Images

1893 The Climax
1893 Enter Herodias
1893 The Peacock Skirt
1893 The Stomach Dance
1894 Madame Rejane
1895 Contents Page of The Savoy No. 1
1895 Frontispiece for Venus and Tannhauser
1895-96 The Billet-Doux
1895-96 The Dream
1895-96 The Toilet
1896 The Ascension of St. Rose of Lima
1896 The Coiffing
1896 The Fourth Tableau of Das Rheingold
1896 Cover design for Smithers' Catalogue of Rare Books

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