Aubrey BeardsleyCover Design for the 'Yellow Book' 1894

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Artwork details

Aubrey Beardsley (1872‑1898)
Cover Design for the 'Yellow Book'
Date 1894
MediumInk on paper
Dimensionssupport: 260 x 216 mm
Acquisition Bequeathed by John Lane 1926
Not on display


This is Beardsley's design for the front cover of the first edition of The Yellow Book, a progressive journal of the arts, first published in 1894. The idea for a more enlightened publication, open to avant-garde ideas, was first formulated by Beardsley and his friend Henry Harland (1861-1905), an American writer who came to London in 1889. Beardsley and the artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) then took the idea to John Lane, who agreed to act as publisher. Henry Harland was appointed literary editor and Beardsley art editor.

From the outset Beardsley aimed to be subversive and his artistic contributions not only gave the journal its distinctive character, but established its decadent reputation. The design for the first cover shows a pair of masked carnival-goers, and the sense of gaiety may owe something iconographically to the posters of the French artist Jules Chéret (1836-1932). However, in spite of the woman's laughter, the couple appears distinctly sinister. Suggestions of lewd behaviour are implicit in the man's furtive expression and sickly smile, and in the woman's air of sensual depravity. Together they call to mind the bacchanalian revelry of Venetian carnivals… (read more)

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