Aubrey Beardsley  

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"On Salome’s dressing table in Aubrey Beardsley’s picture of her toilet and its ritual[1] are copies of Zola’s Nana, The Golden Ass of Apuleius, Manon Lescaut, Fetes Galantes, and the Works of the Marquis de Sade, which are clearly his personal choice of books for such a lady at such a time." --The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) by Holbrook Jackson

"The only real and lasting influence in the art of Aubrey Beardsley was literature. All who have written about him concur as to his amazing booklore. He himself admitted to having been influenced by the writers of the eighteenth century. "Works like Congreve's plays appeal far more vividly to my imagination than do those belonging to the age of Pericles," he said, in the interview already quoted. He was well versed in the literature of the decadence, and was fond of adventuring in strange and forbidden bookish realms of any and every age. The romance, Under the Hill, especially in its unexpurgated form, suggests deep knowledge of that literature generally classed under facetiae and erotica by the booksellers, and there are passages which read like romanticised excerpts from the Psychopathia Sexualis of Krafft-Ebing. The Last Letters of Aubrey Beardsley reveal on almost every page an extraordinary interest in books, equalled only by the keenness of his insight into literature. They reveal also how he was gradually being drawn from the literature of time to that of eternity. "Heine," he writes, " certainly cuts a poor figure beside Pascal. If Heine is the great warning, Pascal is the great example to all artists and thinkers. He understood that to become a Christian the man of letters must sacrifice his gifts, just as Magdalen must sacrifice her beauty. " And in the last letter in the volume, less than three weeks before his death, he wrote : "I have been reading a good deal of S. Alphonsus Liguori; no one dispels depression more than he. Reading his loving exclamations, so lovingly reiterated, it is impossible to remain dull and sullen." --The Eighteen Nineties (1913) by Holbrook Jackson

This is a poster for The Studio, illustrated with a line-block forest image by Aubrey Beardsley.
This is a poster for The Studio, illustrated with a line-block forest image by Aubrey Beardsley.

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Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (21 August 1872 – 16 March 1898) was an English illustrator and author of the Decadents, best known for his erotic illustrations. His emphasis of the erotic element is present in many of his drawings, but nowhere as boldly as in his illustrations for Lysistrata which were done for a privately printed edition at a time when he was totally out of favor with polite society. One of his last acts after converting to Catholicism was to plead with his publisher to "destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad all that is holy all obscene drawings." His publisher, Leonard Smithers, not only ignored Beardsley wishes, but continued to sell reproductions and outright forgeries of Beardsley's work.

Beardsley was active till his death in Menton, France, at the age of 25 on 16 March 1898 of tuberculosis. He had been received into the Roman Catholic church in March of the previous year.


Beardsley was born in Brighton. He was aligned with the Yellow Book coterie of artists and writers. He was an art editor for the first four editions and produced many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely 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, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

Aubrey Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and the grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His most famous erotic illustrations were on themes of history and mythology, including his illustrations for Lysistrata and Salomé.

Beardsley illustrated Oscar Wilde's play Salomé in 1893 for its French performance; it was performed in English the following year. 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 like The Savoy and The Studio. Beardsley also wrote Under the Hill, an unfinished erotic tale based loosely on the legend of Tannhäuser.

Beardsley was also 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 like Pape and Clarke.

Beardsley was a public character as well as a private eccentric. He said, "I have one aim — the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing." Wilde said he had "a face like a silver hatchet, and grass green hair."

Although Beardsley was aligned with the homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and other English aesthetes, the details of his sexuality remain in question. Speculation about his sexuality include rumours of an incestuous relationship with his elder sister, Mabel, who may have borne his miscarried child.

Beardsley was active till his death in Menton, France at the age of 25 on March 16, 1898 of tuberculosis. He had been received into the Roman Catholic church in 1895.

See also

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