Saturday, 23 August 2014


“Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.” - Salvador Dali

For Art Sunday today, I feature Aubrey Beardsley. His full name is Aubrey Vincent Beardsley and he was born August 21, 1872, Brighton, Sussex, England, dying on March 16, 1898, in Menton, France. Beardsley was the leading English illustrator of the 1890s and, after Oscar Wilde, the most outstanding figure in the Aestheticism movement. Drawing was a strong interest from early childhood, and Beardsley practiced it while earning his living as a clerk.

Beardsley’s meeting with the English artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones in 1891 prompted him to attend evening classes at the Westminster School of Art for a few months, his only professional instruction. In 1893 Beardsley was commissioned to illustrate a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte D’ Arthur”, and in 1894 he was appointed art editor and illustrator of a new quarterly, “The Yellow Book”.

His daring illustrations (1894) for Oscar Wilde’s play “Salomé” won him widespread notoriety. He was greatly influenced by the elegant, curvilinear style of Art Nouveau and the bold sense of design found in Japanese woodcuts. But what startled his critics and the public alike was the obvious sensuality of the women in his drawings, which usually contained an element of morbid eroticism. This tendency became pronounced in his openly licentious illustrations (1896) for Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”.

Although Beardsley was not homosexual, he was dismissed from “The Yellow Book” as part of the general revulsion against Aestheticism that followed the scandal surrounding Wilde in 1895. He then became principal illustrator of another new magazine, “The Savoy”, and he illustrated numerous books, including in 1896 Alexander Pope’s “Rape of the Lock”. During this period he also wrote some poems and a prose parody, “Under the Hill” (1903; the original, unexpurgated version, “The Story of Venus and Tannhauser”, appeared in 1907).

Delicate in health from the age of six, when he first contracted tuberculosis, Beardsley again fell victim to the disease when he was 17. From 1896 he was an invalid. In 1897, after being received into the Roman Catholic church, he went to live in France, where he died at the age of 25 years. His work has enjoyed periodic revivals, most notably during the 1960s.

The drawing above from 1896 is a design for the end paper of “Pierrot of the Minute”. This is a work by Ernest Christopher Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900), who was an English poet, novelist and short-story writer, often associated with the Decadent movement. It was first published in 1897. A restored edition with Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations has been published by CreateSpace in 2012. 


  1. A tragic figure in reality. I always thought that his sexuality was unknown or that he was asexual. Although the picture you chose is easily recognisable a his work it's not typical of his Art Nouveau style. Interesting post!
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  2. I don't think people were worried about Beardsley's talent in drawing. He may not have been formally educated in art, but his natural skills were immediately obvious. Especially, as you say, in Oscar Wilde's publications.

    It was the morbid eroticism that made viewers anxious. Sutton wrote that Beardsley combined allusions to Wagner with many of the touchstones of decadent art - the exotic, the morbid, the erotic and the mannered. The freedom to create "fin-de-siècle culture" didn't quite cover his art, at least in Britain.

  3. I really like the large areas of contrasting black and white. A striking image by an accomplished draughtsman!