Life/work: Aubrey Beardsley

I’ve talked (incessantly, I know) about my interest in the Victorian era—I just love subversive modes of expression that stand in for frank discussion in that stridently conservative period. And I’m a sucker for a good and weepy three-decker novel. And I’ve talked (perhaps a bit less) about my World War I readings—from Anne Perry’s series, to an autobiography of a woman caught in Europe at the outbreak, to multiple volumes of history on life in the trenches and the world at war, to my complete obsession with Downton Abbey.

I suppose it was inevitable that I’d become interested in the period that bridged the gap, especially after my December read of The Children’s Book, which I highly (highly, highly, highly) recommend.

So in late December, completely caught up in the interweaving lives and artistic modes in Byatt’s book, I bought the Art Nouveau volume of the Visual Encyclopedia of Art series.

Such a beautiful book. There are sections devoted to architecture, and pottery, and jewelry, but my favorite (right now, anyway) are the prints. And so I’m a little obsessed with Aubrey Beardsley’s work right now.

Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton in 1872 and died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 in 1898. He was associated (and still is) with the Aesthetic Movement (which I talked about in this post back in October); the basic idea of the Aesthetic Movement is that life itself is the greatest artistic production. Oscar Wilde is the most famous individual connected to the Aesthetic Movement—Aubrey Beardsley was a friend of Wilde’s, and provided illustrations to his play Salome.

(Remember Salome? She was the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas; she danced before Herod, pleased him (insert leer), and was given a favor in return. She asked for the head of John the Baptist. At least, that’s what the New Testament claims. Wilde’s version has Salome in love (or lust) with John the Baptist and demanding his death after his rejection.

Beardsley’s illustration of the climax of the play:

Beardsley’s prints are so detailed, so intricate—I love the hair on the severed head, hanging down in limp, snarled locks, still twining around Salome’s arm; those stylized flowers behind Salome look like something that William Morris might have seen during a nightmare, then modified for popular use.  And I think that’s the point—it’s gorgeously done, but more than that, they push the boundaries. The lines are sinuous and sensuous,  but a little threatening. They’re dangerous. They seem dangerous, anyway.

He also illustrated an edition of  Le Morte d’arthur:

Again, I love the detail. The grass and hidden grapes and insects in the frame around the first—and those gorgeous peacock feathers in the one on the left. Beautiful. (And you’ve gotta love a gorgeous edition of Mallory. I mean, what’s not to love?

So many gorgeous pictures–

“The Peacock Skirt”– also from Salome

“Isolde”—I love the detail on her clothes

“Woman Reading”

There is also a considerable collection of somewhat more salacious images, some of which are quite lovely, but which you can find for yourself if you so desire.

This is what has been inspiring me lately—what about you?

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