Beardsley was born in Brighton, England, on 21 August 1872. His father, Vincent Paul Beardsley (1839–1909), was the son of a tradesman; Vincent had no trade himself, however, and instead relied on a private income from an inheritance that he received from his maternal grandfather when he was twenty-one years of age. Vincent's wife, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley's mother married a man of lesser social status than might have been expected. Soon after their wedding, Vincent was obliged to sell some of his property in order to settle a claim for his "breach of promise" from another woman who claimed that he had promised to marry her. At the time of his birth, Beardsley's family, which included his sister Mabel who was one year older, were living in Ellen's familial home at 12 Buckingham Road.
In 1883 his family settled in London, and in the following year he appeared in public as an "infant musical phenomenon," playing at several concerts with his sister. He attended Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School in 1884, before moving on to attend Bristol Grammar School, where in 1885 he wrote a play, which he performed together with other students. At about the same time his first drawings and cartoons were published in the school newspaper of the Bristol Grammar School Past and Present. In 1888 he obtained a post in an architect's office, and afterwards one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892 he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art, then under Professor Fred Brown.
The Peacock Skirt, 1893
His six years of major creative output can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892 he progressed to using his initials, A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Morte D'Arthur and The Bon Mots he used a Japanese-influenced mark which became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals. He co-founded The Yellow Book with American writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and 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.
Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and mythology; these include his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, and his drawings for Oscar Wilde's play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896.
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 such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. Beardsley also wrote Under the Hill, an unfinished erotic tale based loosely on the legend of Tannhäuser, published in The Savoy. Beardsley was 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 as well as 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." Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, ties; yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher's in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.
Although Beardsley was associated with the homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and other English aesthetes, the details of his sexuality remain in question. He was generally regarded as asexual—which is hardly surprising, considering his chronic illness and his devotion to his work. Speculation about his sexuality include rumors of an incestuous relationship with his elder sister, Mabel, who may have become pregnant by her brother and miscarried. During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of the disease that would end it. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home.
Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism in March 1897, and would subsequently beg his publisher, Leonard Smithers, to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings... by all that is holy all obscene drawings." Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and actually continued to sell reproductions as well as 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.
In the BBC 1982 Playhouse drama Aubrey, written by John Selwyn Gilbert, Beardsley was portrayed by actor John Dicks. The drama concerned Beardsley's life from the time of Oscar Wilde’s arrest in April 1895, which resulted in Beardsley losing his position at The Yellow Book, to his death from tuberculosis in 1898.
How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink
The Black Domino
The Stomach Dancer, 1893
Best Works of Aubrey Beardsley (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) by Aubrey Beardsley
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Dover Publications; 44th edition (July 1, 1990)
Amazon: Best Works of Aubrey Beardsley
Rich selection of 170 boldly executed black-and-white illustrations ranging from illustrations for Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Balzac's La Comedie Humaine to magazine cover designs, book plates, title-page ornaments for books, silhouettes, and delightful mini portraits of major composers.
Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography by Matthew Sturgis
Hardcover: 405 pages
Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (January 1, 1999)
Amazon: Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography
The brilliant and brief life of the prodigiously talented, turn-of-the-century English artist, written by a renowned journalist and historian. 28 photos. 30 line drawings.
Aubrey Beardsley: A Slave to Beauty by David Colvin
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Welcome Rain; 1st Welcome Rain ed edition (September 1998)
Amazon: Aubrey Beardsley: A Slave to Beauty
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, illustrator and writer, was the most notorious and outstanding artist of the fin de si?cle. His disturbing erotic drawings shocked the sensibilities of the Victorians and his friendship and collaboration with Oscar Wilde has secured his place in the pantheon of great artists of the 19th century. Jaques-Emile Blanche's portrait of Bearsley, his face 'like a silver hatchet', is the enduring image of this fabulously talented man who died at the age of just 25. Beardsley's most important illustrations were for Wilde's Salome, Popes The Rape of the Lock, The Lysistrata of Aristophanes and Jonson's Valpone. He was art editor of the hugely influential Yellow Book from which he was dismissed following the arrest of Wilde becoming thereafter the creative editor of the 'Savoy' magazine. He went on to write the highly erotic romance The Story of Venus and Tannhauser which was published in an unexpurgated version as Under the Hill. This extraordinary man created some of the most striking and enduring images of the last one hundred years. His influence on Oscar Wilde and his circle was profound and his achievements in such a short life is one of the great literary and artistic stories of the 19th century.
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde by Joseph Pearce
Hardcover: 412 pages
Publisher: Ignatius Press (April 2004)
Amazon: The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde
Vilified by fellow Victorians for his sexuality and his dandyism, Oscar Wilde, the great poet, satirist and playwright, is hailed today, in some circles, as a "progressive" sexual liberator. But this is not how Wilde saw himself. His actions and pretensions did not bring him happiness and fulfillment. This study of Wilde’s brilliant and tragic life goes beyond the mistakes that brought him notoriety in order to explore this emotional and spiritual search.
Unlike any other biography of Wilde, it strips away these pretensions to show the real man, his aspirations and desires. It uncovers how he was broken by his two-year prison sentence; it probes the deeper thinking behind masterpieces such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and "De Profundis"; and it traces his fascination with Catholicism through to his eleventh-hour conversion.
Published on the 150th anniversary of his birth, this biography removes the masks which have confused previous biographers and reveals the real Wilde beneath the surface. Once again, Joseph Pearce has written a profound, wide-ranging study with many original insights on a great literary figure.
More Artists at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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