If I am not grotesque – I am nothing

aubrey-beardsleyEnglish author and illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was born in the English coastal town of Brighton, on 21st August, 1872. He attended Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School in 1884, before moving on to attend Bristol Grammar School, where his first drawings and cartoons were published in the school newspaper Past and Present. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession.

In 1892 he attended classes at the Westminster School of Art, and following that, he then travelled to Paris, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints, both of which would become major influences on his own style. Beardsley was a leading figure in the Aesthetic movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James Whistler.

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era. His  black ink drawings were influenced by the Japanese woodcut style, and emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. Some of his drawings were inspired by Japanese Shunga artwork, which features enormous genitalia.

  • His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and mythology; and included a privately printed edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata; and
  • his drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896.

Other major illustration projects included:

  • The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope (1896),
  • A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).
  • He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines (e.g. for a deluxe edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur) ; and
  • written and illustrative pieces for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder.

Although Beardsley was eccentric, he was also regarded as asexual.  Speculation about his sexuality included rumors of an incestuous relationship with his elder sister, Mabel. However, despite the innuendo, Beardsley was known for his meticulous attire which consisted of dove-grey suits, hats, ties; and yellow gloves.

Despite these eccentricities, it was his health which was more of a concern. Beardsley suffered from frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home. By 1897, his deteriorating health prompted a move to the French Riviera, where he died a year later, at the age of 25,  on 16th March, 1898 from tuberculosis, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, France. He had once said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.”

The above image is: “How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink”. Newberry, Chicago.

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