» Aubrey Beardsley Biography

By Susan Belmont - July 5, 2003

Aubrey Beardsley’s life was like that of a comet: he shined for a short period of time and when he started to have the possibility of shining even more, he passed away.

The Beginning

Aubrey was born in a low middle-class family in Brighton, England in 1872. He had a sister called Mabel, and both of them were considered artistic prodigies in their childhood. At the age of 9, his battle against tuberculosis started and would last through his lifetime.

His first poem was published in 1885, in a school publication, then in 1887 his illustrations were published in a school journal and a school book. By this time he was working as a clerk, and in spite of the small success he made with his artistic work, it only served to have him get frustrated with his job.

Things started to change when he and his sister went (uninvited) to visit Sir Edward Burne-Jones studio. A servant sent them away quite soon, but Mabel’s red hair caught the attention of the great painter and he agreed to take a look on the boy’s drawings, later recommending him to attend classes at the Westminster School of Art.

The Middle

That was when he started to work full-time on illustration books, being his first commission the 1892 edition of Malory’s “Morte D’Arthur”. By that time, Edgar Allan Poe’s books were well known in Europe and Aubrey was hired to make some illustrations to them, including “The Black Cat”.

The following year he started working with English playwright and poet Oscar Wilde and made the illustrations of his play “Salome” and eventually even translated it to French.

That was when he began to get notorious in the British art scene, being talked about in the press and being hired to become the art editor of a famous art and literature quarterly called “The Yellow Book”. But one year later, in 1895 he was dismissed because of Oscar Wilde’s problems with the law!

That is, just because he had done some illustrations to him, he was almost blamed for the same accusation that fell on Wilde: sodomy! But that’s how things were in old England…Nothing like progress!

Well, back to Aubrey’s life, he managed to go on with his career by starting to work on another magazine, “The Savoy”. The project ended in 1896, but he went on making illustrations to Pope’s “The Rape of the lock”, among other great books, including his own “A book of fifty drawings”.

The End

However, unfortunately it was the end of the line to him, as his health was deteriorating more and more. In an attempt to make it better he went to the south of France, but it was too late for him and he died in March 1898, at age 25.

Maybe you’re looking at the illustrations on this page and thinking “What’s Gothic about them?”, but you know, I always thought Beardsley was the dark illustrator of the Art Nouveau period, not because he made illustrations to Poe’s books, but because all his illustrations had a sinister quality, like the “Salome” one showing at left.

And if you’re thinking that the past was all about beautiful frolicking images in florid woods, etc, and only the 20th century started showing all the darkness we have inside us, forget about it.

It’s time for you to know the works of masters like Hyeronimus Bosch, Gustave Doré and the monk master-painters of the Middle Ages, who made images so dark and horrifying that can only be compared to a Stephen King story!

But this is for the following issues! Bye, bye!

Other site's on Aubrey Beardsley:

The Victorian Circle


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Copyright © 2003 Susan Belmont

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