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Aubrey Beardsley

AUBREY BEARDSLEY (1872 - 1898)

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was born in Brighton, England in 1872 to Vincent Paul Beardsley and Ellen Agnus Pitt. His father, Vincent, did not have a trade and relied solely on private income from an inheritance that he received from his maternal grandfather at the age of 21. Aubrey's mother, Ellen, was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian army. In 1883, Aubrey's family settled in London and Aubrey was soon identified as an infant musical phenomenon after playing several concerts with his sister. An interesting fact about Beardsley's youth is that during his childhood he became so ill that he was not able to attend school for 2 years. This early illness would account for Aubrey's eventual gaunt and frail stature. In January 1885 he began to attend Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he would spend the next four years. His early poems and drawings were printed in the school magazine, Past and Present.

Around 1891 Aubrey would take up art as a full-time profession at the urging of Sir Edward Burne-Jones (a famous British artist and designer) and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (the French painter). In 1892 he would begin to attend classes at the Westminster School of Art and after several months he decided to travel to Paris. Paris is where Beardsley would discover two of the biggest influences on his own style – Henri de Toulouse-Latrec and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints. In the same year he would co-found The Yellow Book with American writer Henry Harland and served as the Art Editor in addition to producing cover designs and illustrations for the magazine.

In this part of his career he became aligned with the Aestheticism movement (the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism). Much of Beardsley's work is considered grotesque and erotic in nature, including his artwork of enormous genitalia inspired by Japenese shunga (the Japanese word for erotic paintings and prints). Beardsley is quoted with the following: "I have one aim - the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing." It is important to note that due to this style of painting, Beardsley is widely considered the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau movement.

In 1896 Beardsley did the illustratations for Oscar Wilde's play, Salome. Beardsley's work for Wilde's Salome is what put Beardsley on the map; however, Wilde's arrest scandal involving his homosexual relationship with the son of the Marquess of Queensberry would temporarily cast a shadow over anyone connected to Wilde, including Beardsley. Beardsley's other illustration work includes Malory's Le Morte Darthur, Aristophane's Lysistra, Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, in addition to illustrating several other books and magazines.

In 1898 Aubrey Beardsley died tragically from tuberculosis at the age of 25 (he had originally contracted it at the age of 6) and his remains are buried in Menton, France.

An interesting post-mortem fact is that Beardsley can be found on the original cover of the Beatle's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart Clubs Band album.

F. Holland Day


Oscar Wilde


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


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