About the drama between good and evil, the editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia are expert; and about Aubrey Beardsley, regularly found at the side of the goddess of indecency fanning her with a gigantic palm leaf, they have this to say:... [more]
About the drama between good and evil, the editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia are expert; and about Aubrey Beardsley, regularly found at the side of the goddess of indecency fanning her with a gigantic palm leaf, they have this to say: "He was unable to withstand the desire to do clever, mischievous things and to shock people of narrow opinions, and his ignoble and vicious works were more the result of his Puck-like mischief and eccentricity of habit than of any evil disposition." And so this friend of the incorrigible Oscar Wilde and illustrator of the immoral is remembered even by the most upright and longstanding of moral institutions as more prankster than pornographer.
In a Bristol grammar school, the young Beardsley took to drawing caricatures of schoolmasters and found that he had a natural talent for illustration: the school magazine, called Past and Present, started to publish his work. But in 1889, after a few other stints as a lowly illustrator for school publications, Beardsley left for London to become an illustrious insurance clerk.
In London he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward
Burne-Jones, who encouraged Beardsley to pursue artistic training. Beardsley enrolled in classes at the Westminster School of Art, but his real education began in 1893 when he started illustrating covers for books and periodicals.
One of his first major projects was his work on J.M. Dent's edition of "Morte d'Arthur," for which Beardsley provided more than 300 illustrations. His association with the controversial writer Oscar Wilde, which began in 1893, had the greatest impact on the his work and career. Beardsley illustrated the English version of Wilde's play "Salome" and assisted in its translation from French.
In 1894 Beardsley became the art editor for The Yellow Book, a new art and literary magazine edited by American expatriot Henry Harland. The publication took on Victorian England's mores with force, offering decadent writings and Beardsley's exotic, erotic illustrations. The artist could create a narrative vignette simply by manipulating line and playing black against white. His drawings are of myths and Merlins, of aristocrats and costume balls -- his characters are often caught in moments of drama or, more likely, melodrama. They are innocent or dastardly (it's usually clear which), but also absurdly erotic. Monstrous penises and big fat flatulent asses consume whole pages: We're talking seriously nasty stuff here.
After a year with The Yellow Book, Beardsley left the magazine and joined publisher Leonard Smithers to create a rival publication called The Savoy. From 1895 to the end of 1896, Beardsley contributed both illustrations and his own original writings. Meanwhile, he illustrated Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock" and Ben Johnson's "Volpone." But after a life's work reveling in wild and Wilde indecencies, Aubrey Beardsley surrendered to the Catholic faith in 1895, and to tuberculosis in 1898. [show less]