August 21, 1872– Aubrey Beardsley. Because of my keen interest in Oscar Wilde, back in the early 1980s my boyfriend, the man who would eventually become my husband, introduced me to the work of an astonishing late 19th century artist. 35 years ago, he gave me a big book of illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, an English artist who was often associated with the works of Wilde. John Lane, Wilde’s own publisher, invited Beardsley to illustrate the English edition of the play Salome. When it was published in 1894, both the play & the witty, provocative, & blatantly erotic illustrations created a sensation.
That same year Beardsley became famous as the art editor of The Yellow Book, a new arts & letters periodical that Lane had put together. Beardsley’s stunning B&W drawings, title pages, & covers helped make the new quarterly magazine a big success. The Yellow Book was quickly the target of those stuffy moralists concerned about the influence of the decadent movement on English society & art. One critic described Beardsley’s designs for the periodical as: “diseased, weird, macabre, & sinister”, words once used to describe my underwear drawer.
Considering the shortness of his life, he died of TB at age 25, Beardsley’s achievements are astonishing. A highly original artist, he transformed the idea of illustration & profoundly influenced other artists of his own & future generations.
Beardsley’s expert draftsmanship made his drawings particularly suitable to the technical advances in printing at the end of the 19th century. His work came to maturity at a time perfectly suited to his peculiar genius, when theories of decadence & aesthetic expression to perverse sexuality & fetishism of all kinds were being offered in all the arts.
Beardsley’s work is sexually frank & sometimes pornographic. He drew erect penises & stylized pubic hair. He fetishized objects such as shoes & accessories. He also depicted sexual obsession, lesbianism, sadomasochism, & male homosexuality with an honesty & passion intended to shock & provoke. Even this morning, I can find few examples of his work that are suitable for publishing on The Wow Report, knowing how delicate you all are.
Today, Beardsley is viewed as a satirical artist, with a gift for caricature & the grotesque. He also created revolutionary designs, images & patterns of unsurpassing beauty. I totally dig his work. I hope you will also.
I think Beardsley’s story would make a fine film, maybe starring Tom Hiddleston directed by Wes Anderson.