The first biography for 15 years of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98), one of the greatest — and most distinctive — artistic geniuses this country has produced: a quintessential figure of the ‘naughty nineties’ and notorious friend of Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm. The book will be published in the centenary year of his death and supersede all previous works.
Beardsley, with his infamous reputation, tragic life and instantly recognisable style, is one of the paradigmatic figures of the Modern Age, who worked hard to fashion his persona. Fame, he knew, was the key. It is no surprise, therefore, that both Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe held him in high regard — the latter even collecting his work.
Born in Brighton in 1872 of lower-class parents and diagnosed a consumptive at the age of seven, Beardsley quickly established himself as a precocious talent. His erotic, decadent illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome set the tone of his style: by turn shocking, facetious and cruel. Elongated and androgynous himself, he was readily confused with his own degenerate pictures. Sex suffuses his art and accounts for the mixture of fascination and horror with which his pictures were viewed by contemporaries.
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When Aubrey Beardsley died a century ago(in March 1898), he was not yet twenty-six. In his brief but crowded career he had become one of the defining figures of the '’fin-de-siecle' ' – a precocious draughtsman who redefined the limits of black-and-white art. His erotic, decadent illustrations for Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' set the tone of his style:
by turns shocking, facetious and cruel.
In this impressively researched and lucidly written new biography Matthew Sturgis has uncovered much fresh material and used many previously untapped sources to produce a compelling account of Beardsley's life – his shabby genteel childhood in Brighton and London, his close relationship with his sister Mabel, his inspiring school days, his miserable year in a London insurance office, his first discovery by Edward Burne-Jones, his sudden rise to fame as co-editor of both 'The Yellow Book' and 'The Savoy', his spectacular fall from grace in the wake of the Oscar Wilde scandal, and his anguished period of declining health.
Brilliant, witty and wilfully perverse, Beardsley achieved a fame that polarised Victorian opinion while forging a unique position for himself amongst the demands and attractions of the Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists, Symbolists, literary Decedents and the applied arts movement. Beloved by Burne-Jones, cursed by William Morris, he was the intimate of Wilde, the rival of Whistler, the friend of Beerbohm, Sickert, Ada Leverson and William Rothenstein.
With his infamous reputation, short tragic life and instantly recognisable style, Beardsley is one of the quintessential figures of the Modern Age. He created much that was enduring, yet – as the author shows – perhaps his greatest creation was himself. His deliberate manipulation of press and public, his awareness of both art and the market-place, made him one of the first truly modern artists.About the Author:
Matthew Sturgis read history at Oxford, worked for four years in publishing, and since then has made his living by writing — art criticism for Harpers & Queen, travel pieces for the Sunday Telegraph, and book reviews for the Independent. His cartoons have been published in the Oldie and the Daily Mail. His previous book, PASSIONATE ATTITUDES: THE ENGLISH DECADENCE OF THE 1890s, was published in 1995 by Macmillan.
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