Aubrey Beardsley

November 17, 2009

Date of Birth:
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was born on August 21, 1872 and died March 16, 1898.

Place of Birth:
Born in Brighton-
A short-lived eccentric, he was one of the most influential and controversial artists of his time. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, he began doing art as a profession. Beardsley was closely involved with the Yellow Book group of artists and writers, and created many illustrations for their magazine. Artistically, he most closely identified with the Aestheticism and Art Nouveau movements.  Aubrey Beardsley’s artistic works are sophisticated and irreverent. His most famous illustrations were of historical and mythological themes, and include his illustrations for Lysistrata and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. Beardsley produced an unbelievable number of illustrations for various books and magazines, (for a beautiful edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur) and worked for the magazines The Savoy and The Studio.

Beardsley’s influence ranges from the work of the French Symbolists, to the work of many Art Nouveau artists like Pape and Clarke.

His unusual style seems to be inspired in part by the decorative features of Greek vases. This stark style was effective for his time period in particular, as illustrative plates in books were printed from etchings, and painterly renderings and value shifts would not translate well in print. Beardsley had the advantage of working directly with print media or ink. His methods of dealing with value shifts and grays are particularly interesting; rather than rendering with hatching and cross-hatching, as most engravers would have done, Beardsley simply renders the contours of grays and lighter shapes with ornamental, swirling dots.

In 1892 he began attending classes at Westminster School of Art, then under Professor Fred Brown.

Works of Note:

Illustrator Miscellany:
Beardsley was involved with a homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde, among others, but his own sexuality remains a mystery.

It was rumored that he had an incestuous relationship with his elder sister Mabel, but because of his lifelong health problems and devotion to his work, it has been widely assumed that he was merely asexual.

Wilde said Beardsley had “a face like a silver hatchet, and grass green hair.”

Examination of Materials:

Style Analysis

Though he made a name for himself with his tight, linear style, it is his humorous and sometimes grotesque treatment of subject matter that makes his work memorable. In his piece titled Lysistrata Defending the Acropolis, the viewer is confronted by a group of nubile young women throwing water and breaking wind upon a small, flacid man. Though the piece itself is beautiful and ornamental (even the fart cloud is decorative), the average viewer cannot help but giggle immaturely at something that could have come from the margins of a 12-year old’s school notebook. Aubrey Beardsley’s work is an Aubrey Beardsley’s work is an interesting contrast of positive and negative shapes.

In this piece from Le Morte D’arthur, the stark, ornate whites are set off by harsh blacks. Utter lack of tonal rendering is apparent in virtually all of Beardsley’s work. This makes his images appear flat and decorative, like an illuminated manuscript. His work was also greatly influenced by Japanese wood block prints, and his later works are even signed with a Japanese-style signature. Aubrey Beardsley greatly adored the grotesque, but could move seamlessly from horrid images of squatting demons, to light-as-air ladies with flowers in their flowing locks. His close friend, Oscar Wilde described Beardsley’s muse as having “moods of terrible laughter”. Due to his intense ambition, Aubrey Beardsley continued working, even upon his deathbed. Volpone Adoring His Treasure  was the last piece he ever produced. Oscar Wilde was quoted upon the death of Aubrey Beardsley, saying :“He still had immense powers of development, and had not sounded his last stop. There were great possibilities always in the cavern of his soul.”

On March 16, 1898, tuberculosis had finally consumed his lungs “at the age of a flower”, Wilde described. Upon his deathbed, It was his final request to Wilde that his “naughty” drawings and editions of Lysistrata be destroyed, though, unfortunately for him, this did
not occur. They still survive as an example of his delightfully perverse and artistically brilliant career, one for which he will forever be remembered.

– Julia Marsh, Spring 2009



Snodgrass, Chris. “Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque” 1995. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, “Aubrey Beardsley.” 2009.
/artists/Aubrey_Beardsley/Biography/ (accessed 10/19/09)., “Aubrey Beardsley.” 2009.
/artists/Aubrey_Beardsley/Biography/ (accessed 10/19/09)., “Aubrey Beardsley.” 2009.
/artists/Aubrey_Beardsley/Biography/ (accessed 10/19/09).

Walker, R.A.. “Aubrey Beardsley.” 2009.

/B/beardsley.html (accessed 10/20/09).

Cherian , Hima. “In Black and White: Aubrey Beardsley .” Morbid Outlook. (accessed 10/20/09).


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