Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (/ˈbɪərdzli/ BEERDZ-lee; 21 August 1872 – 16 March 1898) was an English illustrator and author. His black ink drawings were influenced by Japanese woodcuts, and depicted the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the aesthetic movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler. Beardsley's contribution to the development of the Art Nouveau and poster styles was significant despite his early death from tuberculosis. He is one of the important Modern Style figures.

Aubrey Beardsley
Portrait of Beardsley by Frederick Hollyer, 1893
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley

(1872-08-21)21 August 1872
Brighton, Sussex, England
Died16 March 1898(1898-03-16) (aged 25)
Menton, France
Resting placeCimetière du Vieux-Château, Menton, France[1]
EducationWestminster School of Art
Known forIllustration, graphics/graphic arts
MovementArt Nouveau, aestheticism

Early life, education, and early career Edit

Aubrey Beardsley by Jacques-Émile Blanche, oil on canvas, 1895 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Beardsley was born in Brighton, Sussex, England, on 21 August 1872 and christened on 24 October 1872.[2] His father, Vincent Paul Beardsley (1839–1909), was the son of a Clerkenwell jeweller;[3][4] Vincent had no trade himself (partly owing to inherited tuberculosis, from which his own father had died aged only 40),[5][6] and relied on a private income from an inheritance that he received from his maternal grandfather, a property developer, when he was 21.[7] Vincent's wife, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley's mother married a man of lesser social status than might have been expected. Soon after their wedding, Vincent was obliged to sell some of his property in order to settle a claim for his breach of promise of marriage from another woman, the widow of a clergyman,[8] who claimed that he had promised to marry her.[9] At the time of his birth, Beardsley's family, which included his sister Mabel who was one year older, were living in Ellen's familial home at 12 Buckingham Road. The number of the house in Buckingham Road was 12, but the numbers were changed, and it is now 31.[8] At the age of seven, Beardsley contracted tuberculosis.[10]

With the loss of Vincent Beardsley's fortune soon after his son's birth, the family settled in London in 1883, where Vincent would work first for the West India & Panama Telegraph Company, then irregularly as a clerk at breweries;[11][4] they would spend the next 20 years in rented accommodation, battling poverty. Ellen took to presenting herself as the "victim of a mésalliance".[12][13] In 1884, Aubrey appeared in public as an "infant musical phenomenon", playing at several concerts with his sister.[14] In January 1885, he began to attend Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he spent the next four years. His first poems, drawings, and cartoons appeared in print in Past and Present, the school's magazine. In 1888, he obtained a post in an architect's office and afterward one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892, he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art, then under Professor Fred Brown.[15][14]

Work Edit

Beardsley traveled to Paris in 1892, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints. His first commission was Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory (1893), illustrated for the publishing house J.M. Dent and Company.[16] In 1894, a new translation of Lucian’s True History, with illustrations by Beardsley, William Strang, and J. B. Clark, was privately printed in an edition of 251 copies.[17]

Beardsley had six years of creative output, which can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period, his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892, he progressed to using his initials A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Le Morte d'Arthur and The Bon Mots, he used a Japanese-influenced mark that became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals.[18]

The Peacock Skirt, 1893

He co-founded The Yellow Book with American writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions, he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and many illustrations for the magazine. He was aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his images are done in ink and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones as well as areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

The Barge, illustration to The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, 1896

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. He satirized Victorian values regarding sex, that at the time highly valued respectability, and men's fear of female superiority, as the women's movement made gains in economic rights and occupational and educational opportunities by the 1880s.[19][20]

His illustrations were in black and white against a white background. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and mythology; these include his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes' Lysistrata and his drawings for Oscar Wilde's play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896. Other major illustration projects included an 1896 edition of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.[16]

The Black Cat, 1894–5

He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines (e.g., for a deluxe edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur) and worked for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. As a co-founder of The Savoy, Beardsley was able to pursue his writing as well as illustration, and a number of his writings, including Under the Hill (a story based on the Tannhäuser legend) and "The Ballad of a Barber" appeared in the magazine.[21]

Beardsley was a caricaturist and did some political cartoons, mirroring Wilde's irreverent wit in art. Beardsley's work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster Art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists such as Papé and Clarke. Some alleged works of Beardsley's were published in a book titled Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Selected from the Collection of Mr. H.S. Nicols. These later were discovered to be forgeries, distinguishable by their almost pornographic erotic elements rather than Beardsley's subtler use of sexuality.[22]

Beardsley's work continued to cause controversy in Britain long after his death. During an exhibition of Beardsley's prints held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1966, a private gallery in London was raided by the police for exhibiting copies of the same prints on display at the museum, and the owner charged under obscenity laws.[23]

Private life Edit

Aubrey Beardsley, c. 1894–1895

Beardsley was a public as well as private eccentric. He said "I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque, I am nothing." Wilde said Beardsley had "a face like a silver hatchet, and grass green hair."[24] Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, ties, yellow gloves. He appeared at his publisher's in a morning coat and court shoes.[25]

Although Beardsley was associated with the homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and other aesthetes, the details of his sexuality remain in question. Speculation about his sexuality includes rumours of an incestuous relationship with his elder sister, Mabel, who may have become pregnant by her brother and miscarried.[26][27]

During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of tuberculosis. He suffered frequent lung haemorrhage and often was unable to work or leave his home.

Beardsley converted to Catholicism in March 1897. The next year, the last letter before his death was to his publisher Leonard Smithers and close friend Herbert Charles Pollitt:

Postmark: March 7, 1898 | Jesus is our Lord and Judge | Dear Friend, I implore you to destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings … By all that is holy, all obscene drawings. | Aubrey Beardsley | In my death agony.[28]

Both men ignored Beardsley's wishes,[29][30] and Smithers actually continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley's work.[18]

Death Edit

In December 1896, Beardsley suffered a violent haemorrhage, leaving him in precarious health. By April 1897, a month after his conversion to Catholicism, his deteriorating health prompted a move to the French Riviera. There he died a year later, on 16 March 1898, of tuberculosis at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, Alpes-Maritimes, France, attended by his mother and sister. He was 25 years old. Following a requiem mass in Menton Cathedral the following day, his remains were interred in the Cimetière du Trabuquet.[31][32]

Media portrayals Edit

In the 1982 Playhouse drama Aubrey, written by John Selwyn Gilbert, Beardsley was portrayed by actor John Dicks. The drama concerned Beardsley's life from the time of Oscar Wilde's arrest in April 1895, which caused Beardsley to lose his position at The Yellow Book, to his death from tuberculosis in 1898.[33] The BBC documentary Beardsley and His Work was made in 1982.[34] Beardsley is featured on the cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The 1977 horror film Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is narrated by the entombed spirit of an unnamed artist whose work and manner of death identify him as Beardsley.[35]

In March 2020, BBC Four broadcast the hour-long documentary, Scandal & Beauty: Mark Gatiss on Aubrey Beardsley, presented by Mark Gatiss. The programme coincided with the Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain.[36]

Beardsley’s art is also mentioned briefly in the 2011 version of the Car Seat Headrest song, Beach Life-in-Death.[37]

Legacy Edit

In 2019 the National Leather Association International established an award named after Beardsley for creators of abstract erotic art.[38]

Gallery Edit

Works Edit

  • Beardsley, Aubrey, Simon Wilson, and Linda Gertner Zatlin. 1998. Aubrey Beardsley: a centenary tribute. Tokyo: Art Life Ltd. OCLC 42742305

See also Edit

Citations Edit

  1. ^ Bertrand Beyern. Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres. Paris: Le Cherche Midi, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7491-2169-7
  2. ^ "England, Births and Christenings, 1538–1975," index, FamilySearch, accessed 4 April 2012), Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872).
  3. ^ Brophy 1968, p. 85
  4. ^ a b "Beardsley, Aubrey, Artist, Part 1 – The Formative Years". Epsom & Ewell History Explorer.
  5. ^ Brophy, Brigid (1976). Beardsley and His World, Harmony Books, p. 12.
  6. ^ Aubrey Beardsley: Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1966 [20 May – 18 September] Catalogue of the Original Drawings, Letters, Manuscripts, Paintings, and of Books, Posters, Photographs, Documents, Etc, H.M. Stationery Office, 1966
  7. ^ Sturgis 1998, p. 8
  8. ^ a b Sturgis 1998, p. 3
  9. ^ Sturgis 1998, p. 10
  10. ^ Farren, Jen; McCain, Sandy. "Aubrey Beardsley Art, Bio, Ideas". The Art Story. Retrieved 26 July 2022.
  11. ^ Sturgis 1998, p. 11
  12. ^ Crawford, Alan (2004). "Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent (1872–1898)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1821. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ Sturgis 1998, p. 15
  14. ^ a b   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 577–578.
  15. ^ Armstrong 1901.
  16. ^ a b Souter, Nick; Souter, Tessa (2012). The Illustration Handbook: A Guide to the World's Greatest Illustrators. Oceana. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-84573-473-2.
  17. ^ “Beardsley (Aubrey Vincent)” in T. Bose, Paul Tiessen, eds., Bookman's Catalogue Vol. 1 A-L: The Norman Colbeck Collection (UBC Press, 1987), p. 41
  18. ^ a b Harris, Bruce S., ed. (1967). The Collected Drawings of Aubrey Beardsley. Crown Publishers, Inc.
  19. ^ Eric Smith (1992). "The Art of Aubrey Beardsley". Loyola University. Archived from the original on 25 November 2017. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  20. ^ "A Mirror for Salome: Beardsley's The Climax". Victorian Web. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  21. ^ "The Life of Aubrey Beardsley" (PDF). Victorian Web. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  22. ^ Symons, Aurthus (1967). The Collected Drawings of Aubrey Beardsley. New York: Crescent Books Inc. pp. v.
  23. ^ Elizabeth Guffey, Retro: The Culture of Revival (London: Reaktion Books, 2006) p.7
  24. ^ Kingston, Angela. Oscar Wilde as a Character in Victorian Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 9780230600232
  25. ^ Weintraub, Stanley (1976). Aubrey Beardsley, Imp of the Perverse. Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 85.
  26. ^ "Beardsley and the art of decadence by Matthew Sturgis", reviewed by Richard Edmonds in The Birmingham Post (England), 21 March 1998. At, retrieved 5 April 2012.
  27. ^ Latham, David, ed. (2003). Haunted texts: studies in Pre-Raphaelitism in honour of William E. Fredeman. University of Toronto Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-8020-3662-9.
  28. ^ Beardsley, Aubrey (1970). The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. ISBN 978-0-8386-6884-9.
  29. ^ Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen (2003). "Sartorial Obsessions: Beardsley and Masquerade". In Fredeman, William Evan; Latham, David (eds.). Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism in Honour of William E. Fredeman. University of Toronto Press. pp. 178–183. ISBN 978-0-8020-3662-9.
  30. ^ Kaczynski, Richard (2012). Perdurabo, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Life of Aleister Crowley. North Atlantic Books. pp. 37–45. ISBN 978-1-58394-576-6.
  31. ^ Sturgis 1998[page needed]
  32. ^ Crawford, Alan (2004). "Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent (1872–1898), illustrator". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/1821.
  33. ^ Gilbert, John Selwyn (22 June 2008), Aubrey
  34. ^ "BBC – Beardsley and his Work". BBC. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  35. ^ DEATH BED - The Bedlam Files
  36. ^ Scandal & Beauty: Mark Gatiss on Aubrey Beardsely - BBC Four website
  37. ^ Car Seat Headrest – Beach Life-in-Death [2011], retrieved 4 September 2022
  38. ^ NLA-I. Web. "Award Nominations - NLA International".

General sources Edit

  • Armstrong, Walter (1901). "Beardsley, Aubrey Vincent" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  • Beardsley, Aubrey, Simon Wilson, and Linda Gertner Zatlin. 1998. Aubrey Beardsley: a centenary tribute. Tokyo: Art Life Ltd. OCLC 42742305
  • Beerbohm, Max. 1928. 'Aubrey Beardsley' in A Variety of Things. New York, Knopf.
  • Benkovitz, Miriam J. 1980. Aubrey Beardsley, an Account of his Life. New York, N.Y.: Putnam. ISBN 0-399-12408-X.
  • Brophy, Brigid (1968). Black and White: a Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley. New York, N.Y.: Stein and Day. OCLC 801979437.
  • Calloway, Stephen. 1998. Aubrey Beardsley. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-4009-4.
  • Dovzhyk, Sasha. 2020. "Aubrey Beardsley in the Russian 'World of Art'". British Art Studies Issue 18.
  • Dowson, Ernest. 1897. The Pierrot of the Minute. Restored edition with Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations, CreateSpace, 2012. Bilingual illustrated edition with French translation by Philippe Baudry, CreateSpace, 2012
  • Fletcher, Ian. 1987. Aubrey Beardsley. Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-6958-7.
  • Reade, Brian. 1967. Aubrey Beardsley. New York: Bonanza Books.
  • Ross, Robert 1909. Aubrey Beardsley. London: John Lane.
  • Snodgrass, Chris. 1995. Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509062-4.
  • Symons, Arthur. 1898. Aubrey Beardsley. London: At the Sign of the Unicorn.
  • Sturgis, Matthew (1998). Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-255789-4.
  • Weintraub, Stanley. 1967. Beardsley: a biography. New York, N.Y.: Braziller.
  • Zatlin, Linda G. 1997. Beardsley, Japonisme, and the Perversion of the Victorian Ideal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58164-8.
  • Zatlin, Linda G. 1990. Aubrey Beardsley and Victorian Sexual Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019817506X.
  • Zatlin, Linda G. 2007. "Aubrey Beardsley and the Shaping of Art Nouveau." Bound for the 1890s: Essays on Writing and Publishing in Honor of James G. Nelson. Ed. Jonathan Allison. Buckinghamshire: Rivendale Press.
  • Zatlin, Linda G. "Wilde, Beardsley, and the Making of Salome." Scholars Library, 2007; originally published in The Journal of Victorian Culture 5.2 (November 2000): 341–57.
  • Zatlin, Linda G. 2006. "Aubrey Beardsley." Encyclopedia of Europe 1789–1914. Chicago: Gale Research.

External links Edit