1860- 1900 Beginnings of the Golden Age: Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley, 1894

Aubrey Beardsley’s artistic career was remarkably impactful for its conciseness. In the seven years, he was able to draw and write before dying of tuberculosis, Beardsley developed a reputation as one of the most controversial artists of his time. The linear elegance of his designs coupled with the artist’s bizarre sense of humor and fascination with the taboo simultaneously intrigued and repelled his Victorian audience. His illustrations comprised characteristics of Aestheticism, Decadence, Symbolism, and, most apparently, Art Nouveau.

Most Impactful Work

He was greatly influenced by the elegant, curvilinear style of Art Nouveau and the bold sense of design found in Japanese woodcuts. But what startled his critics and the public alike was the obvious sensuality of the women in his drawings, which usually contained an element of morbid eroticism. This tendency became pronounced in his openly licentious illustrations (1896) for Aristophanes’ Lystrata.

Beardsley’s Lystrata Drawing

Although Beardsley was not homosexual, he was dismissed from The Yellow Book as part of the general revulsion against Aestheticism that followed the scandal surrounding Wilde in 1895. He then became principal illustrator of another new magazine, The Savoy.

Beardsley’s Yellow Book Illustration

In this illustration of the deathbed of Pierrot the clown for The Savoy magazine in London, Beardsley depicts what he described as “strange hermaphroditic characters wandering about in Pierrot costume.” Characteristic of the decadent notion that life is a performance; here the artist creates a theatrical atmosphere to convey that message.

Beardsley’s Deathbed of Pierrot, the Clown for the Savoy magazine






1860- 1900 Beginnings of the Golden Age: Aubrey Beardsley

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