Birthday: August 21, 1872
Died At Age: 25
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
Born Country: England
Born in: Brighton, England
Famous as: Illustrator
Spouse/Ex-: Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932)
father: Vincent Paul Beardsley
mother: Ellen Agnus Pitt
siblings: Mabel Beardsley
Died on: March 16, 1898
City: Brighton, England
Cause of Death: Tuberculosis
education: Westminster School of Art
Who was Aubrey Beardsley?
Aubrey Beardsley was an English illustrator, author, and caricaturist, best known for his signature style of drawing in black ink, inspired by Japanese woodcuts. His first commission was for ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’ by Thomas Malory. He also wrote an unfinished novel named ‘Under the Hill,’ which was published in his magazine ‘The Savoy.’ Two of his other famous works were ‘The Woman in the Moon’ and ‘The Peacock Skirt,’ both for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salomé.’ His works showcased the dark erotic themes of the Decadent era. He was a prominent figure of the Aesthetic movement, along with luminaries such as Oscar Wilde. Aubrey contributed to the evolution of the Art Nouveau and the poster style of art. Unfortunately, his illustrious career was cut short by his death from tuberculosis at the tender age of 25.
Childhood & Early Life
Aubrey Beardsley was born on August 21, 1872, in Brighton, England, to Vincent Paul Beardsley and Ellen Agnus Pitt. He was christened on October 24, 1872.
His grandfather was a Clerkenwell-based jeweller. His father was mostly plagued by tuberculosis and relied on the inheritance he had received from his maternal grandfather.
Aubrey’s mother was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt, who had served in the ‘Indian Army.’
Aubrey had an older sister named Mabel. When he was born, his family stayed at his mother’s family home at 12 Buckingham Road.
His father, Vincent, had lost a lot of his fortune trying to settle a claim made by a woman whom he had allegedly promised to marry.
The family moved to London in 1883, where Vincent worked at the ‘West India & Panama Telegraph Company’ and at breweries, as a clerk.
In 1884, Aubrey earned the titled of an "infant musical phenomenon,” after playing at a few concerts with his sister.
In January 1885, he joined the ‘Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School.’ He published his first poems and drawings in the school magazine, ‘Past and Present.’
In 1888, Aubrey took up a job at an architect's office. He later worked at the ‘Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company.’
In 1891, advised by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, he chose art as a career option. A year later, he started attending classes under Professor Fred Brown at the ‘Westminster School of Art.’
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Aubrey went to Paris in 1892. There, he came across the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese prints.
Audrey was then commissioned to illustrate for ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’ by Thomas Malory (1893), under the publishing house ‘J. M. Dent and Company.’
His early works were mostly unsigned. Around 1891, he began using his initials, “A.V.B.” In mid-1892, he used a Japanese-influenced mark. He also used “A.B.” in block letters at times.
He, along with American author Henry Harland, co-founded ‘The Yellow Book,’ a quarterly periodical. He was initially the art editor of the periodical and created its cover designs and illustrations.
His work was associated with Aestheticism, the British version of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his creations were in ink.
His works created quite a controversy in the Art Nouveau era. Most of his illustrations were in black and white, against a white background, with a prominent tone of darkness and eroticism.
Some of Aubrey’s works were modeled on Japanese “shunga” art and featured huge images of genitalia. Some of his works also consisted of mythological and historical themes. Such works include his illustrations for an edition of Aristophanes's ‘Lysistrata’ and those for Oscar Wilde's drama ‘Salome.’
He also illustrated an 1896 edition of Alexander Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock.’ He also worked for magazines such as ‘The Savoy’ and ‘The Studio.’
He was the co-founder of ‘The Savoy’ and thus also spent some time writing pieces such as the story ‘Under the Hill,’ based on the legend of Tannhäuser, and ‘The Ballad of a Barber.’
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Aubrey also earned fame as a caricaturist and drew a lot of political cartoons. His work had influenced the French Symbolists, the 1890s’ poster art movement, and the later Art Nouveau artists.
A book titled ‘Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, Selected from the Collection of Mr. H. S. Nicols,’ was later found to be a fake work, containing graphic pornographic images, as opposed to Aubrey’s subtle erotica.
During a 1966 exhibition of his prints held at the ‘Victoria and Albert Museum’ in London, a private London gallery was raided and charged for exhibiting copies of the prints that were already on display at the museum.
His art was a critique of the sexuality, gender roles, and consumerism of the Victorian era. His works were easy to reproduce, as many of them used block prints.
His 1894 poster ‘The Art of the Hoarding’ redefined poster art in Europe and America.
He adopted the Decadent themes of death and decay. One of his most famous works was ‘Under the Hill,’ an incomplete erotic novel about Venus and Tannhauser. He wrote it and illustrated for it.
He worked for a deluxe edition of ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’ by Sir Thomas Malory, which narrated the tale of King Arthur. His ‘How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink’ (1893–1894) was illustrated for the same work.
The illustration depicted Tristram and Isolde's love story. They were portrayed as an androgynous couple separated by a pillar, thus challenging the traditional gender roles.
‘The Woman in the Moon’ (1894) was created for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salomé.’ The picture showed a naked man (Page of Herodias) standing in front of a robed man (Narraboth) and looking at the moon.
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‘The Peacock Skirt’ (1893) was another art made for Oscar Wilde's ‘Salomé’ (1894). The picture showed an effeminate man dressed in a long robe, with a peacock looking on. ‘Salome’ seemed to seduce the man in the picture, in total disregard of the Victorian passivity of women.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Aubrey was known to be eccentric in his style of dressing. He is said to have once appeared at this publisher’s office in a morning coat.
He was also suspected to be homosexual due to his association with Oscar Wilde and other gay writers, though there is no concrete evidence supporting this.
Some also believe that Aubrey shared an incestuous relationship with his sister, Mabel. Reports suggest that she may have become pregnant by him and later miscarried.
He suffered from frequent attacks of tuberculosis, like his father and grandfather. His lung haemorrhages often rendered him unable to work. In December 1896, Aubrey suffered a severe haemorrhage and became an invalid.
In March 1897, he converted to Roman Catholicism. By April that year, he moved to the French Riviera, to recover from his illness. He breathed his last on March 16, 1898, due to tuberculosis, at the ‘Cosmopolitan Hotel’ in Menton, France.
He was just 25 years old at the time of his death. After a Requiem Mass in ‘Menton Cathedral,’ he was buried in the ‘Cimetiere du Trabuquet’
The 1982 ‘BBC Playhouse’ drama ‘Aubrey’ had actor John Dicks playing his role. Aubrey was also featured on the cover of ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ the eighth studio album of ‘The Beatles.’
The 1982 ‘BBC’ documentary ‘Beardsley and his Work’ was based on his life.