Artist biography

English draughtsman and writer. He was brought up in Brighton, in genteel poverty, by his mother. She gave her children an intensive education in music and books, and by the time he was sent to boarding-school at the age of seven Beardsley was exceptionally literate and something of a musical prodigy. He was also already infected with the tuberculosis that eventually killed him.

Early in 1894 Beardsley was appointed art editor of the Yellow Book. When Wilde was arrested on a criminal charge of committing indecent acts, the subsequent scandal also brought down Beardsley. He was sacked from the Yellow Book on 19 April 1895 by its publisher John Lane, who had also published Salome, and he temporarily fled to France.

It may be argued that Beardsley was the most significant figure to emerge in English art in the last decade of the 19th century. In his first maturity from 1892 to 1894 he created a modern style that was wholly personal and, as he himself put it, ‘fresh and original'. The content of Beardsley's art was as startling as its style. His ostensible subjects were drawn from Classical literature and history, the Bible and the social world of his own time; but his pictures express eternal human truths, given a grotesque force by the power of Beardsley's own fevered psyche. In his lifetime and immediately after, his work became widely known and admired abroad, and formed an influential part of the current of Art Nouveau and international Symbolism.

Bibliography
J. Pennell: ‘A New Illustrator: Aubrey Beardsley', The Studio, i (April 1893), pp. 14–19
A. E. Gallatin: Aubrey Beardsley: Catalogue of Drawings and Bibliography (New York, 1945)
B. Reade: Beardsley (London, 1967)
S. Weintraub: Beardsley: A Biography (London, 1967, rev. University Park, 1976)
H. Maas, T. L. Duncan and W. G. Good, eds: The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley (London, 1971)
B. Brophy: Beardsley and his World (London, 1976)
M. Benkovitz: Aubrey Beardsley: An Account of his Life (London, 1981)
I. Fletcher: Aubrey Beardsley (Boston, 1988)
R. Langenfeld, ed.: Reconsidering Aubrey Beardsley (Ann Arbor, 1989)
L. G. Zatlin: Aubrey Beardsley and Victorian Sexual Politics (Oxford, 1990)

SIMON WILSON

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