Aubrey Beardsley

Annie Lee | May 31, 2023

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Aubrey Vincent Beardsley († March 16, 1898 in Menton, France) was a British illustrator, poet, graphic artist and cartoonist.

Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton (county of East Sussex, England) in 1872 into an upper-middle class family. His father, Vincent, lost his entire fortune and therefore had to work in London breweries. His mother, Ellen Pitt, contributed to the family's income by teaching piano. Both Aubrey and his sister Mabel were highly gifted and were initially both considered musical prodigies. From an early age, Aubrey's health was considered to be failing, and he had his first documented hemorrhage at the age of nine as a result of consumption (tuberculosis). While still at elementary school in Brighton, he began to depict his teachers in caricatures. From 1884 he attended Bristol Grammar School, where in 1885 he wrote a play which he performed with other pupils. Around the same time, his first drawings and cartoons were published in the Bristol Grammar School newspaper Past and Present. Beardsley left school as early as 1888 to try his hand in London, first as a clerk in an architect's office and later with a life insurance company. At this time, he continued his self-taught education in art and literature on the side.

Major health setbacks in 1889 confined him to his sickbed and forced him to give up his profession - but he remained faithful to art. Through an unannounced visit to the Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones became aware of Beardsley and his works. Burne-Jones arranged for the draftsman to attend evening classes at the Westminster School of Art, where he received his first and only professional artistic education. Beardsley's own research in various art collections, libraries and antiquarian bookshops of the time brought him closer to 19th century French literature and Japanese woodblock prints, which together with the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites can be found in his works.

In 1892, a publisher came across Beardsley's drawings through a mutual acquaintance and commissioned him to illustrate Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur, which appeared with Beardsley's work in 1894. Oscar Wilde's 1893 first edition of Salome, written in French, inspired Beardsley to produce a drawing on the motif of Salome with the head of John the Baptist, which was published alongside eight others in the first issue of the art journal The Studio. This drawing, in turn, brought Beardsley to the attention of the writer Wilde and resulted in his being commissioned to illustrate the English edition of Salome. The publication of the English edition, however, cast a shadow over their friendship, as Wilde, a lover of the Orient, felt that the drawings appeared too Japanese. Beardsley, in turn, who had never been good with criticism and considered all critics his enemies, countered by mocking Wilde in some caricatures.

Around the same time, Beardsley met the writer Henry Harland and the publisher John Lane, with whom he published the first issue of The Yellow Book in 1894. Although the magazine was heavily criticized in its early days for its exaggerated, erotic, almost pornographic content, it was a resounding success and helped Beardsley achieve great fame. The young draftsman's constant knowledge of his imminent death due to consumption (a doctor had predicted that he would live another five years in 1892) drove him again and again to extreme industriousness, creativity, and creative variety. In 1896, Beardsley left the Yellow Book and, with Leonard Smithers, a publisher known for pornography and erotica, launched The Savoy as a counterpart to the Yellow Book. The new magazine again drew the most severe criticism for its objectionable content at the time, but helped Beardsley to further fame by publishing his illustrations to other books, such as Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

Faced with his progressive illness, Beardsley went into the care of the Catholic Church and converted in 1897. In order to recover in the mild Mediterranean climate, he spent the last year of his life in the south of France, where he succumbed to the effects of his chronic illness at the age of 25 in the Alpes-Maritimes department.

Beardsley's style thrives on strong, large-scale black-and-white contrasts; his favorite reproduction technique was zinc etching. Among the most famous works of the draftsman are the illustrations for the book Salome, in which Beardsley - like many other artists of his time - was influenced by Japanese woodcuts. In many of Beardsley's works, the kimono-like robes of his figures and the distortion of perspective into a flat image, reminiscent of vase painting, are striking. Also typical are the often organic-looking ornaments and curved lines in his paintings (cf. The Peacock Dress or The Apotheosis). In Germany, Beardsley's influence can be seen in the work of artists such as Marcus Behmer, Thomas Theodor Heine, Franz von Bayros, and to some extent Heinrich Vogeler; in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially in Harry Clarke, William H. Bradley, and William Thomas Horton.

Beardsley's importance as a writer is marginal within English literature. His most important work is the unfinished erotic novella Under the Hill, in which Beardsley, a Wagner admirer, takes up the legend of Tannhäuser and Venus. In this text, Venus's hill is described as a baroque-like court. A German version was published by the Munich publisher Hans von Weber in 1908 under the title Venus und Tannhäuser. Eine romantische Novelle as a private print for 246 subscribers.

In numerous publications about Beardsley, illustrations can be found that bear one of his signatures but are not by him and are quickly recognizable due to their low quality. These are mainly 50 well-known drawings published in 1920 in the book Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, selected from the collection owned by Mr. H. S. Nichols, New York, the edition size was only 500 copies. However, there are also two genuine Beardsley books with a similar title: A Book of Fifty Drawings (Leonard Smithers, London 1897) and A Second Book of Fifty Drawings (Leonard Smithers, London 1899). In addition, there are other forgeries that, while qualitatively well above those of Nichols' 1920 book, still do not approach Beardsley's artistry. The fake drawings can be easily recognized by the fact that they are shown without direct reference to the text and by the indifferent title, for example "Peacock with Sunrise" and "Toilet of a Courtesan". Often picture elements of real Beardsley illustrations were copied and combined to new pictures. They can be found even in the most recent publications.

During his lifetime, Beardsley was already so well known that his style was parodied several times in the English magazine Punch. These drawings, which can be seen as caricatures (partly published under the pseudonym Daubaway Weirdsley around 1895), are stylistically closest to the real Beardsley prints.

Not directly as forgeries but at least as gross defacements one can call the retouched erotic Lysistrata illustrations that were printed in the book The later work of Aubrey Beardsley, Dover Publications, Inc., New York (1967 and later editions).

In his brief yet prolific creative period as an illustrator of six years, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley created over 1000 illustrations, caricatures (of Émile Zola, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, and Carl Maria von Weber, among others), book vignettes, bookplates, title pages, posters, and more, including:

Beardsley also collaborated on various art and literary magazines (such as The Yellow Book, The Studio, The Savoy), such as the exemplary issues:

(in chronological order)


  1. Aubrey Beardsley
  2. Aubrey Beardsley
  3. ^ Bertrand Beyern. Guide des tombes d'hommes célèbres. Paris: Le Cherche Midi, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7491-2169-7
  4. ^ "England, Births and Christenings, 1538–1975," index, FamilySearch, accessed 4 April 2012), Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872).
  5. ^ Brophy 1968, p. 85
  6. ^ a b "Beardsley, Aubrey, Artist, Part 1 – The Formative Years". Epsom & Ewell History Explorer.
  7. Бёрдсли / В. А. Кулаков // «Банкетная кампания» 1904 — Большой Иргиз. — М. : Большая российская энциклопедия, 2005. — С. 348. — (Большая российская энциклопедия : [в 35 т.] / гл. ред. Ю. С. Осипов ; 2004—2017, т. 3). — ISBN 5-85270-331-1.
  8. Ермолович Д. И. Англо-русский словарь персоналий. — М.: Рус. яз., 1993. — 336 с. — С. 48
  9. « » (consulté le 7 septembre 2021)
  10. Maud Noury, « Quelle musique entendez-vous sur l'illustration "Frontispiece to Chopin's Third Ballade" d'Aubrey Beardsley ? », sur France Musique, 16 novembre 2020 (consulté le 12 août 2021)
  11. a b et c (en) A. D. Fraser Jenkins, « Aubrey Beardsley. London », The Burlington Magazine, no 1150,‎ janvier 1999, p. 48-50.
  12. a et b Edward Lucie-Smith (trad. de l'anglais), Le Symbolisme, Paris, Thames&Hudson, 1998, 216 p. (ISBN 978-2-87811-159-0)
  13. «Biografía de Aubrey Beardsley (Su vida, historia, bio resumida)». Consultado el 19 de agosto de 2022.
  14. Kitson, M., voz «Beardsley (Aubrey)» en Diccionario Larousse de la pintura, tomo I, Editorial Planeta-De Agostini, S.A., 1987. ISBN 84-395-0649-X.
  15. a b Diccionario Larousse de la pintura

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