Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) lived a desperately short life and his career spanned just seven years. Nonetheless his output as a draughtsman and illustrator was prolific and will be the focus of a major exhibition at Tate Britain in early 2020. Beardsley’s subversive illustrations became synonymous with decadence: he delighted in the erotic, shocking audiences with his bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque.
His work was deemed too scandalous by many publishers of the period, but found a suitably unseemly home with the notorious Leonard Charles Smithers (1861-1907). Shortly before his death, with his health in steep decline, Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism. He asked Smithers to ‘destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings … by all that is holy all obscene drawings’. Smithers dutifully ignored Beardsley’s wishes and continued to sell reproductions (as well as some forgeries) of his work. This little book therefore, published by Smithers in 1897, is as much a historic document as it is a beautiful introduction to Beardsley’s art.
An original copy of A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley is held in Tate’s own library and will be included in the exhibition itself, with first editions selling for many hundreds of dollars online.
Contains fifty of Beardsley’s best known works, beginning with ‘The Achieving of the Sangreal’ from Le Morte d’Arthur (1872) and ending with the ‘The Fourth Tableau of Das Rheingold’, from the October issue of The Savoy in 1896. In between are placed a short but engaging selection of his best-known works, including: ‘The Peacock Skirt’ and ‘The Dancer’s Reward’ from Wilde’s Salome (1893); ‘The Baron’s Prayer’ from Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (republished in titillating fashion by Smithers in 1896); a selection of covers from Beardsley’s own The Savoy magazine, a periodical specialising in literature and art; and ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ illustrating Alexandre Dumas’s tragic story of a courtesan who sacrificed herself for her lover in The Yellow Book, the famous literary quarterly published in London from 1894 to 1897 and dedicated to all things decadent and aesthetic.
The original book is here reduced in format making it perfect as a gift.