Aubrey Beardsley: One of a Kind

Aubrey Beardsley

The Illustrators:

Only twenty-five years old at his death, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) had a significant impact on art and illustration despite his short career. Born in Brighton, England, he lived in London most of his life, and died in Paris from tuberculosis, which had plagued him since childhood.

His work influenced both the Art Nouveau movement the anti-Victorian Aesthetic movement popularized by the writings of Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne and the art of James McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, son a a tradesman, began his adult working life in a London insurance company office. His clever and satirical cartoons caught the eye of artist Edward Burne-Jones, who persuaded Beardsley to pursue a career in art.

After classes at the Westminster School of Art, he began producing drawings and caricatures for English magazines. His early work was often unsigned or marked with his initials “A.V.B.” (Aubrey Vincent Beardsley).

Influenced by old Italian masters and, according to critics, Japanese woodcuts (which he denied), Beardsley developed a distinctive pen-and-ink style. His mythological and historical themes often involved erotic or grotesque subjects, at the time considered obscene by many and, later, by Beardsley himself.

Aubrey Beardsley is best known for his florid Art Nouveau posters and magazine illustrations. He produced cover art for The Yellow Book, an avant garde literary magazine co-founded and art directed by Beardsley.

In 1896 he produced illustrations for Oscar Wilde's play Salome and a private edition of Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

Aubrey Beardley's meteoric rise in European art circles and tragic death gave rise to a “craze,” a period of intense interest in his art and life. His cartoons and drawings, however, were not widely known in America during his lifetime because of limited reproduction and censorship of his work.

His work was rediscovered by a later generation of Americans and has enjoyed subsequent public popularity and influence.

Studio Magazine said of him, “He is not an artist whom one can amusingly denounce or indiscriminately praise, but an acknowledged master of satire and decorative line, who taught graphic artists many new and important lessons, and practically exhausted the resources of his medium. He is an artists' artist.”

Martin Birnbaum wrote in Craftsman Magazine, 1911, “Aubrey Beardsley was the most eminent of a group of men all of whom died while still very young, but who lived long enough to accomplish successfully something original and important in art or literature.”

Many examples of his work can be found today on-line at various Websites. Check the Image Galleries for more examples of art by Aubrey Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley self portrait