Aubrey Beardsley
(British, 1872-1898)

“I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque, I am nothing.

            -Aubrey Beardsley

 

A brilliant designer and illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley’s frail health cut his life and career very short, though the influence of his work has been long-lasting. Beardsley died of tuberculosis before the age of 26.

 

A prodigy of sort from modest surrounding, Beardsley excelled in school, and at the age of 12 was performing in concerts with his sister, Mabel. In 1885 he wrote and performed a play with pother students from Bristol grammar School, and he began showing interest in drawing cartoons for the school paper at about the same time. After a start as a clerk in London-area offices, Beardsley got some encouragement from Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, who convinced Beardsley to pursue his art, and in 1892 he was off to study in Paris.

 

It was in Paris that Beardsley discovered two art forms that would be highly influential on his own work. The Art Nouveau work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese print works both had considerable impact on the style that Beardsley would produce over the next few years. His return to England in 1893 also brought him his first major book commission, an edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur for J. M. Dent. The volume had over 350 illustrations, and widely introduced Beardsley’s decadent imagery to an English audience. His work, often erotic, and frequently shocking to his audience, was both praised for its innovation, and criticized for its lack of convention. Beardsley co-founded The Yellow Book with American Henry Harland in 1894, which allowed him to publish under his own direction. He had a similar arrangement in 1896 with The Savoy, and he was a regular contributor to The Studio.

 

He was known to be flamboyant and eccentric, and was associated with a crowd that included Oscar Wilde. The two worked together to produce an edition of Salomé in 1894. As Beardsley’s health progressively worsened, he converted to Catholicism, and requested that copies of all his obscene drawings be destroyed. He died in Menton, France, in March of 1898.

 

Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925. Published by Dover Publications. Mineola, New York, 2016. p. 21.