"I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing." - On Aubrey Beardsley

21 August 1872, the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton.

"I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing." (Aubrey Beardsley)

Beardsley imagination of the “Wagnerites” (1894) 
from the heydays of British Wagnerism    

It was almost a guest appearance, performed in a minor key, due to its brevity, a scherzo often, sensuous, a tour de force through the deterioration of traditional forms and lines, pacesetting for the dawn of the first new major art movement at the beginning of the 20th century, art nouveau. Beardsley had just six years at his disposal to develop his inherent expressive power in consonance with the Todessehnsucht, the death wish of the fin-de-siècle. And absorbing influences like a sponge, the Pre-Raphaelites, fashionable Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock printings, Wagner’s music and old legends, the young artist produced something far greater than the sum of its parts. A perception of life and death, mostly in black and white and refined to a distinctive morbid beauty and elegance that would become a leitmotif of the artists of the period.

One of Beardsley's illustrations of Malory's "Morte d' Arthur"(1894)

His illustrations for Malory’s “Morte d’ Arthur”, Pope’s “Rape of the Lock” and, of course, Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” are among his best known works, along with various caricatures of society and fellow artists, first and foremost Wilde himself, who criticised Beardsley’s famous drawings as “too japonais” and found himself to be the victim of some rather unflatteringly drawn ripostes. But then, Beardsley, the dandified monk, never learned how to handle criticism, drew only with the doors and windows closed at night by the light of a candle and, though being well-known in society circles, allowed only his mother and sister to maintain something resembling love and nearness towards him. Both women were present when he died in a hotel room in Menton in Southern France at the age of 25 from tuberculosis, silently and peaceful with a rosary in his hands. His fantastic art, already well known and copied during his lifetime, lived on to influence the likes of Klee, Kandinsky and Picasso and his erotic sujets copied by forgers as late as 1961.

Salome kissing the head of John the Baptist.
Aubrey Beardsley: "The Climax", depicting a scene from Oscar Wilde's "Salome" 


A quite comprehensive monographic show of Beardsley’s works can be found on:


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