From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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 drawings...by 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 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.